Last month more than 1,000 residents in Ellicott City, Maryland experienced the concept of a more bikeable and walkable community at The Horizon Foundation’s third Open Streets Howard County event that concluded at our Dorsey’s Search Village Center.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only one in three adults get the recommended amount of physical activity each week. However, if adults have access to outdoor bike lanes and sidewalks, they are more likely to meet the guidelines. The Horizon Foundation, an organization committed to improving the health and wellness of those who live and work in Howard County, started the Open Streets initiative to promote a more bikeable and walkable community where everyone can safely and easily travel by bike or on foot.

We spoke with Olivia Doherty, director of communications at The Horizon Foundation, who helped organize Open Streets Howard County and sees first-hand how implementing bike paths can positively impact the community. From The Horizon Foundation’s vision to building a reimagined road in Howard County, here’s what Olivia had to say:

Can you give us an overview of the Open Streets Howard County initiative and the event itself?

Olivia Doherty: The idea of the Open Streets Howard County initiative is that if a community has bike paths and trails that connect people to where they need to go, people are more likely to consider biking or walking to their destination. The bikeway in Howard County is a proposed network of routes that ultimately makes it easier for the community to transport around town without using a car.

The goal of the event was to give the community the experience of walking and biking in Ellicott City. Our event route encompassed three stops: Dorsey’s Search Village Center, Dorsey Hall Pool, and Northfield Elementary School and Dunloggin Middle School. The pop-up paths were inspired by Howard County’s bike master plan to give the community a feel for the bikeway and chance to try it out for themselves. We had about 200 community members sign on in support of the bikeway. It was wonderful to see their excitement for not only the event, but for the future bike plan as well.

Community members showing support for the proposed Howard County bikeway
Participants walked and rode along the bike routes that The Horizon Foundation created for the event

Why did you choose Dorsey’s Search Village Center as a stop on the route?

Doherty: Dorsey’s Search Village Center was excited to host a portion of Open Streets and we were happy to include the center in the festivities. Kimco understood the vision and goal of the initiative and wanted to be a part of it too, which was awesome. Also, the businesses at the center were so enthusiastic about the bikeway, which is beneficial for them because when they promote biking, they are essentially promoting business and greater foot traffic.

Other than biking and walking, what were some of the activities people could participate in at the event?

Doherty: At the three stops, we had many family-friendly activities. At Dorsey’s Search Village Center we had inflatable obstacle courses, face painting, live music, vendor tables, and a bike-check station with bike safety tips. At other stops we had DJs, food trucks, yoga, a bike decorating contest, and a bike rodeo obstacle course.

During the opening ceremony, County Executive for Howard County, Allan Kittleman, spoke about working on increased funding for bike routes in the area. Jon Weinstein, Howard County council member, and a few local school principals spoke as well. All in all, policy makers, leaders, and the community came together to support a beautiful and healthy vision for Howard County.

From obstacle courses to vendors, Open Streets was full of activities for the entire community
Face painting was a popular activity for kids at the Dorsey’s Search Village Center stop
Community members enjoyed the live music at Open Streets

How is the Open Streets initiative impacting the county?

Doherty: This year we had over 1,000 attendees at Open Streets Howard County. Overall, there has been a lot of enthusiasm around making the community more bikeable. It’s becoming less of an event each year and more like a movement in Howard County. Partnering with local bicycling advocates such as the Howard County Bikeshare Program, Howard County’s Office of Transportation, and various cycling groups and bike shops in the area has been wonderful. The hardest part, however, is the funding for the bikeway. Currently, we do not have enough budgeted for the bike master plan, but each year our support grows, and we hope that support continues in the future with the Open Streets initiative.

Open Streets participants enjoyed the ride on safe, blocked-off portions of the street

Are similar initiatives taking place in other parts of Maryland and in the U.S.?

Doherty: Yes, in fact, many communities are putting on Open Streets events, but they might execute them in different ways. Some communities will hold block parties instead of shutting the streets down, but it’s all for the same cause. There’s definitely a growing attention on the importance of biking and the importance of building bikeable and walkable communities, especially from the younger and older generations. The hope is for a community where people can walk and bike to the store or to their friends’ house. As for Howard County, we have a long way to go compared to our neighboring counties in Maryland, but we have a vision in mind, and are excited to see how it will unfold in the coming years.

To learn more about Open Streets Howard County, visit The Horizon Foundation’s website, and be sure to check out Open Streets Howard County’s Facebook and Twitter to stay in the know.