By Bruce Cohen - October 30, 2014
One of Bike Maryland’s goals is to foster local bicycle advocacy throughout the state, whether it’s an independent advocacy group or an active and inclusive wing of a local bike club. The first thing I did when I was hired at the end of April was print out a map of Maryland counties and mark the reach of every advocacy group and every bike club so I knew where we had our biggest gaps. On November 11th, I hope to be able to color my map with a vibrant new advocacy group in Harford County.
Cycling is on the rise in Harford County, according to locals, statistics, and this article that ran in the Baltimore Sun last August. Interest in cycling is on the rise, at least according to the People for Bikes who first noticed that an unusually high number of people visiting Harford bike shops were signing their pledge. Harford has two active bicycling clubs, Harford Velo and Chesapeake Spokes and a new bicycle master plan to help guide the county. The town of Bel Air has made significant strides in becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community, and we hope to hear some good news coming from the town soon. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to ride the rolling countryside outside Churchville with members of both groups. A reoccurring theme I heard that evening was; “Yes, biking is better in Harford County, but it could be EVEN better.”
Despite this, however, there is no organized, concerted bicycle advocacy effort. When advocacy is lacking, especially in a place like Harford which is ripe for it, Bike Maryland will step up and help organize cyclists into their own, independent organization, providing the initial push and guidance to help get local advocacy off the ground. We rely on local advocacy to help us make Maryland a friendlier place to bike. We need to concentrate our efforts on the state level, and unfortunately this means that we are not available to watch every municipality and fight for every bike lane project. We will weigh in on local issues of importance when they are out of the scope or ability of a local group, but the hours in the day are scarce and we rely on our local groups to be our “boots on the ground” applying the day in and day out pressure on local policymakers, and knowing when to call us for help.
On November 10th, from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Harford County Library Bel Air Branch we will meet with interested advocates who live and bicycle in Harford. We will facilitate the meeting and will ask Harford cyclists how they want to move forward with local advocacy. If they decide to move forward, we will give them guidance on initial steps, but we are not here to dictate what is best for Harford. Our role in local advocacy is to bring the players to the table, to give them the skills and knowledge so they can run their own campaigns, and to give them support as needed. Then, with a group tasked to keep an eye on what is happening, what roads are being worked on, and what needs the county has, we can mobilize with them to effectively use our scarce resources and time to help them make Harford a more bike-able place to live.
No need to RSVP, but we do have a Facebook event page established to help spread the word. If you live or bike in Harford County, we hope you’ll attend.