On Nov. 21, longtime safe streets advocate Steven Hardy-Braz of Farmville was struck by a car while riding his bicycle on a road in Belhaven. The distracted driver did not see Steven and drove directly into the back of Steven’s bicycle, seriously injuring him. Steven remains in recovery today.

In addition to advocating for pedestrian and bicyclist safety for decades, Steven is a longtime volunteer for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the nonprofit organization overseeing the development of the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway stretching from Maine to Florida. The Greenway route passes through North Carolina along a spine route in the middle of the state and a complementary route following the coastline, which connects Greenville, Jacksonville, Elizabeth City, Wilmington and other coastal towns.

As the Virginia and North Carolina manager for the Alliance, the most common question I hear is, “Why do we need a greenway?” The benefits of greenways are many: equitable outdoor access, tourism, economic development and sustainable modes of transportation.

However, the most important reason why we need greenways is safety. Steven, who is one the safest bicyclists I know, always wears a helmet, follows the rules of the road and bikes with a flag sticking off the side of his bike that reads “3 feet please.” He was still struck by a distracted driver.

Greenways are off-road, protected multi-use paths for people of all ages and all abilities. We need greenways because we need safe routes for people walking, biking and rolling. And I’m not just talking about using greenways for recreation. I’m talking about commuting, running errands, taking the kids to school and getting to appointments.

There are those who choose to get around without a motor vehicle, but there are also those who do not have a choice. For some, a bicycle is the only form of transportation they can afford. Should we put these bicyclists’ personal safety at the mercy of two-ton motor vehicles going 65 mph simply because they can’t afford to travel in a car themselves?

Despite costing one-tenth of the price of road construction, the benefits of building a greenway are so much more than those of building yet another road. The returns on investment are visible almost right away, with increased revenues at local business along the greenway, new tourists seeking outdoor recreation opportunities, less motor vehicle congestion and a better quality of life for local residents. The construction of greenways also provides stable, well-paying jobs. I have yet to come across a community who regrets the construction of a greenway in their town.

Everyone walking, biking or using a mobility device deserves a safe and accessible way to get around. It shouldn’t take the terrible collision that Steven suffered to prove this point. People need safety and people need greenways.

Sarah Sanford is Virginia and North Carolina Manager of the East Coast Greenway Alliance.

Contact Bobby Burns at baburns@reflector.com and 329.9572.