Nonprofit group promoting walking and biking in West Virginia

Did you know it is state law that a vehicle driver must give a bicyclist 3 feet of space when passing on the roadway?

A nonprofit group out of Charleston passed the law last year in order to increase West Virginia’s national ranking as being bike-friendly as well as raise awareness about bikers on the road.

Kasey Russell, executive director of West Virginia Connecting Communities, said not having a 3 foot passing law kept West Virginia ranked low on the Alliance for Biking and Walking Benchmarking Report.

“We were one of only 13 states that did not have the 3 foot passing law. Pennsylvania a few years ago passed a 4 foot passing rule. Being able to successfully changing the law and updating the state code, we jumped up in those national rankings, so we became more bicycle friendly.

“Two years ago we were 48th or 47th and then last year we were the same because the bill didn’t actually go into effect until June 2014, so they’ve all told me, ‘oh yeah, you’re going to go up in rankings in the next benchmarking report,’” Russell said.

WV Connecting Communities hosts a legislative bike ride, guiding delegates, senators, and Department of Transportation staff on a bike ride and walk in Charleston. Russell also successfully received a several grants to raise awareness of the new law with “Give ‘em 3” billboards and printed materials that they hope will go statewide.

“More and more people are talking about bicycles being on the road, so it was a huge win for us because that’s the most important thing is just changing people’s mindset so it’s not just a crazy thing that this person’s out riding a bike or walking in our state,” she said.

“So we’d like to kind of institutionalize if you will that biking and walking are good things,” she said.

Increasing healthy and active lifestyle through biking and walking as well as increasing tourism are major goals of the group.

“There’s lots of data, I mean volumes of data, that support that a little bit of physical activity, walking or biking, how much that actually improves your health and can prevent all these different diseases, and in turn that would save us all money in insurance, so it’s really, really neat and fascinating stuff,” Russell said.

“Second kind of mission is actually making West Virginia more of an attraction for longer mileage cycling trip as well as hiking trip, so that you can come here and you can spend three or four days in the state cycling or you can spend three or four days, five days in the state hiking,” she said.

“And there are communities like Northern Wisconsin; there’s lots of different communities that have transformed themselves and become these cycling destinations, long-mileage hiking destinations. So, of course, what pops up around there, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, bike shops, all kinds of stuff … it’s tourism dollars, and I think we’re not quite doing a lot yet with that.”

She said that Pocahontas County, with its Greenbrier River Trail and picturesque scenery, is definitely on the group’s radar as being a potential destination for bike tourism.

“About 80,000 visitors utilize the Greenbrier River Trail, for instance. So we have invested dollars into marketing specifically that state park to a broad audience of not only empty-nesters, people that are 55 years or older most likely. Also, family-oriented audience we’ve targeted,” Rose said.

That’s Cara Rose, executive director of the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Convention and Visitors Bureau definitely knows bike tourism is a big draw for the area.

“Pocahontas County CVB does market to an audience that is interested in outdoor recreation,” she said. “We are promoting mountain biking or leisure biking … so we have over the years invested a large portion of our marketing dollars toward that opportunity.”

Story By

Kelly Taber

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