Orange County, North Carolina is quickly becoming a favorite hotspot for cyclists in the Southeast. Local tourism boards are considering leveraging the growing interest as an economic development tool, while improving community branding at the local and regional level. Several advocacy groups, such as Carolina Tarwheels and Bicycle Alliance of Chapel Hill, have worked to develop programs surrounding bicycle safety; organizing events for cyclists of all ages.
Orange County boasts a network of scenic rural roads that local cyclists enjoy exploring, and despite nearby growth humming in the Triangle region of Raleigh-Durham, these roads remain remarkably quiet and undisturbed. Cyclists enjoy panoramic views of flowering fields and farmlands, with popular riding routes including destinations such as Honeysuckle Tea House, Maple View Farm, the Farm Tours, historic downtown Hillsborough, UNC Chapel Hill, and downtown Carrboro.
Using cycling as an economic development strategy for the area came into focus for funding last fall. In November 2014, the Orange County Board of Commissioners approved a master plan that could add more than $40 million in parks and recreation facilities over the next 15 years. One urgent need is for paved recreational bikeways connecting both the towns and counties, which can help address the growing participation from recreational cyclists and a demand for environmental sustainability.
The master plan approval arrives following the publication of a new report from the University of California that suggests cities whose residents ride, run, or walk have increased economic growth and productivity compared to areas with more sedentary citizens. Bike-friendly communities also show higher levels of mental health and wellbeing.
One of the report’s key findings noted that if bicycling were made safer, the percentage of all trips made by bike in the U.S. would rise from 8 percent to 40 percent. In addition, 44 percent of the 1,800 adults surveyed who did not own a bike said they would start riding at least once per week if they didn’t have to worry about traffic.
With safety as a primary concern for most cyclists, Orange County has several organizations, including Carrboro Bicycle Coalition, that offer resources such as maps, overview of bicycle laws, as well as a list of bike friendly stores and businesses. This strong community presence contributes to Orange County’s charm, continuing to attract visitors looking to explore the area on two wheels.
Should communities have an economic responsibility to promote cycling, walking, and other forms of public transportation? How can bike-friendly communities improve safety design to encourage more cycling by residents and visitors?
Credits: Images by Rachel Eberhard. Data linked to sources.