First steps


From time to time, the subject of having safe lanes or other thoroughfares where people can walk and ride their bikes in Harford County arises, and there's every reason to believe such community amenities would be well used.

It isn't a new idea. The original pedestrian-friendly walkways are sidewalks, which have been around since the days when streets weren't paved and a lot of people walked. Sidewalks, be they brick, board or concrete, were elevated above the streets initially so the many folks who got around on their feet could avoid stepping in pollution left by the transportation engines of the day: horses and beasts of burden.

In our era, with the exception of a few cities that can be described as cosmopolitan, most people get from place to place by car, even if it's within walking distance. All too often, outside of towns planned in pre-automotive days, it's safer and easier to get around by car, even if the destination is within walking distance.

Thus, the latest push by the Harford County Government to devise a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan is a good idea. You can walk easily within a suburban neighborhood or within the municipal confines of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace, but walking to a store in most of our suburban areas is a daunting proposition. It may be possible to walk to a shopping center without having to use an unpaved path through a field or wood lot (though there are plenty of those), but once you get there, navigating the parking lot can be a real challenge if you're on foot.

Ride a bike and finding a place to lock it up for a short shopping excursion could be equally difficult.

We Americans do love our cars, so it's kind of natural that our suburban areas have grown up with relatively little consideration given to walkers or bicyclists, but there's evidence that is a function of a blind spot in the planning of our communities. When safe, easy to use walkways have been put in place, they have been well-used. The Ma & Pa Heritage Trail for the full of its length from Fallston to Forest Hill is one case in point. The neighborhood walkway along Route 24 in Forest Hill is another. Similarly, joggers and cyclists can be seen frequently using the bicycle lanes along Tollgate Road in the Constant Friendship area of Abingdon.

The unfortunate reality of riding a bicycle or walking in most places in Harford County is that it's fine for maybe as much as a mile, but then walkways come into conflict with roadways. The result too often is deadly. Certainly, our roadways aren't littered with the bodies of pedestrians and cyclists, but enough people are hit by cars every year in this county that the issue should be regarded as a problem worthy of attention.

While the immediate cause often can be linked to an action by a driver or a pedestrian victim, there are other contributing factors. One is that, while pedestrians supposedly always have the right of way, many drivers seem oblivious to the rule and are loathe to accommodate those who are walking.

Another is that there are many roadways that seem to encourage pedestrians to cross, even though such crossings could prove difficult for Indiana Jones.

While there are a lot of things that could be done to make Harford County — especially its suburban environs — more useful for walkers and cyclists, linking neighborhoods safely to business centers and cracking down on drivers who don't afford the appropriate level of respect to walkers and cyclists would be a good first step.

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