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Chester County Press

Biking the community

11/14/2017 03:03PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Nolan Morris
Staff Writer

“There's just something about being outside with your neighbors -- with people in your community. It just feels good,” said Josie Marsh, of Bike Kennett, after a morning bike ride last month.
Marsh spoke excitedly about the many changes happening around Kennett Township. One of the projects is the Kennett Greenway, a proposed 12-mile loop trail that will connect residential areas, parks, shops, restaurants, breweries and other local amenities.
“In my mind, we can't get the Kennett Greenway built fast enough,” Marsh said. “I just think people are going to love it.”
While completion of the Greenway remains a future goal, some completed portions are already open to walkers and bicyclists in and around Kennett Township. “It's great for everybody to get out and just enjoy what we have to offer here. It's gorgeous,” Marsh said.
Bike Kennett, a volunteer-led bicycling advocacy group, was started in August 2016 by Marsh in answer to a call from a handful of residents. “I was going to have to start organizing rides again,” she said. “When I started the rides in the spring, I had no idea [what the interest level would be].” Through word of mouth and an active Facebook presence, word spread about the new group rides, which were held on Tuesday evenings and Sunday mornings. “On nice days, we had 10 or 15 people showing up every week,”Marsh said.
Over the course of the year, Bike Kennett was part of community events, and led fundraisers and youth-centered rides.
“It’s been amazing seeing how excited people are to get involved,” Marsh said. “It’s pretty cool to know that there are a lot of people that want what we’re working towards.”
Many of the volunteers at Bike Kennett’s events first got involved through the group rides held earlier in the year. “It makes me feel really good about the effort put into the rides -- how that’s actually helping with the advocacy part,” Marsh said.
“Bike Kennett is that bridge between the community, the township and the borough,” she said of  role as the conduit for connecting the Kennett Square public with “the people who can make the changes. We're asking people, 'Where do you want to walk? Where do you want to bike?'
“At our fundraising event at the Creamery and at the Anson B. Nixon Rock the Park event, Alta Planning + Design was there with their maps,” Marsh said. The company is in charge of the Kennett Active Transportation Plan, a project initiated by Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township to improve walkability and bikeability of the area's roads. “Part of what Bike Kennett did is give feedback on that plan, saying, 'Here's where we want to be able to go,'” Marsh said. “That was fantastic. It gets people excited.”
Bike Kennett went a step farther during one of the highlights of the group's first year, when Marsh put together about 45 volunteers and participants of all ages for a Community Ride on a beautiful September Saturday. “We rode from the park, down Broad Street, down South Street to Herb Pennock Park, and went back up Walnut Street to Nixon Park,” Marsh said. The police-escorted ride served to test possible routes for an area bike network being developed by Kennett Township and Kennett Square Borough.
In discussing some of the biggest challenges Bike Kennett faces, Marsh said,”Our society was built for cars, roads were built for cars -- everyone wants to get around in cars. I have friends who live in the south side of town, and they don't even own bikes because they're too scared to ride anywhere.”
Safety in numbers is one of Bike Kennett’s greatest strengths. By connecting people with shared interests in bicycling, Marsh is helping cultivate a safer, more enjoyable environment for riding.
“There were people who said to me afterwards, ‘I feel more confident now. I feel like I can ride on the roads.’ Just getting people out there to do it is confidence-building. These group rides have brought people out who otherwise would not come out.”
Marsh constantly seeks other avenues for gathering the thoughts and ideas of the community. “We are having a meeting with La Communidad to talk about how we can help with mushroom workers being safer and having better ways to get to their jobs,” Marsh said. “These are people who are using bikes as their only form of transportation. It's a big part of what this community is about, and we want to support that.”
Marsh is sometimes frustrated by the slow pace of long-term projects like the Kennett Greenway and Kennett's Active Transportation Plan, but short-term benefits have not been hard to find.
“It's exciting to see the kids out there having fun,” Marsh said of Bike Kennett's Kids Ride & Helmet Safety event held at Anson B. Nixon Park in August. “We did two different loops around the park and they'd come back, shouting, 'I want to go again!' That's how we can make a difference in the future -- to get more kids to ride.”
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