“Oftentimes, and we’re seeing this more and more, companies looking to locate to areas aren’t just looking for a skilled labor force, but what amenities are available for that labor force,” said Rockingham County’s planning director. “‘Where will my employees be happy?’”
Elected officials, biking-and-walking advocates and both Harrisonburg and Rockingham County staff will discuss biking and walking Friday for the fifth annual Harrisonburg and Rockingham Bike-Walk Summit.
JMU’s Bike and Pedestrian Committee and Office of Community Service-Learning hosts the event, which is organized by the Shenandoah Valley Bike Coalition and the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Metropolitan Planning Organization.
SVBC President Kyle Lawrence said attendees will discuss diversity in the biking and walking community.
The topic of diversity “had a lot of momentum” after last year’s summit, Lawrence said, “so we decided to use it as this year’s theme.”
“That diversity could look like many things,” he said. “It could be young and old, it could be different populations. … We’re throwing a broad net and we’re not saying we know exactly what that is yet.”
The summit kicks off with breakfast at 8 a.m. followed by a welcome by Harrisonburg Mayor Chris Jones and a recap of accomplishments in the biking and walking community in the previous year.
Among those accomplishments, Lawrence said, are the bike coalition’s Bikes For Refugees program, Connect Our Schools initiative in Harrisonburg and the Safe Routes to School program in Rockingham County.
The Bikes For Refugees program provides bikes for refugees in the city, Lawrence said. Connect Our Schools called for shared-use paths between the city’s new Bluestone Elementary School on Garbers Church Road, Harrisonburg High School and Thomas Harrison Middle School. Safe Routes to School encourages kids to walk and bike to school by adding sidewalks and safety features around schools.
Veronica Davis, co-owner of the Washington, D.C.-based planning group nspiregreen and co-founder of Black Women Bike, is the keynote speaker of the event and will present a talk at 10 a.m. titled “Stronger Together: Building an Inclusive Biking and Walking Community.”
Lawrence said Davis’ talk will facilitate group discussions on how to enhance diversity in the area’s biking and walking community.
“It’s quite a collaboration of planning and facilitation,” Lawrence said. “We get a good representation from the city staff, county staff, elected officials, community activists. It’s a really nice group for exploring these topics.”
Lawrence said the 2015 summit led to an important economic impact study emphasizing the value cycling provides to the Valley.
The study covered Rockingham, Augusta, Shenandoah and Rockbridge counties and the cities of Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro, Lexington and Buena Vista.
Rockingham County officials cited the study when discussing a countywide bicycle-and-pedestrian plan from the MPO and the regional planning district.
“It is certainly something that shows the interest in bikes and walking have grown significantly,” Cooper said of the study.
The Board of Supervisors adopted the plan, which doesn’t obligate any funding, last week. It cites Safe Routes to School in recommending sidewalk improvements on Lawyer Road from U.S. 33 to Peak View Elementary School.
Cooper said officials listen to ideas generate at the summit.
“We’ll be participants,” she said. “But we try to take the back seat so we can let the other attendees inform us.”
For more information on the summit, visit https://svbcoalition.org/bike-walk-summit/.