Friends Avery Gallagher and Charley DeMarco always liked biking to each other’s houses to visit each other. They often take the Lawrence Hopewell Trail, a trail going through Hopewell and Lawrence Township that’s 22-plus miles long. The LHT is connected to Lawrence’s middle school and high school, and is a trail that families, bikers, joggers and walkers can enjoy.
Gallagher and DeMarco have loved and used the LHT, but they have also noticed that there is no safe way to cross Princeton Pike or Route 206, and that other nearby roads are not safe for bikers. The girls, both 12-year-old Lawrence residents, are dedicated to making sure this changes, and that students of both Lawrence middle school and high school can cross these roads safely to visit the other side of town.
Since they are girl scouts, DeMarco and Gallagher decided, with the help of their moms, that a biking audit would be a great way to give back to the community for their Girl Scout Silver Award. The Silver Award is a honor given to middle school-aged students that carry out a project to give back to their community.
What a biking audit entails is doing a thorough investigation of the biking path to look for any signs of safety concerns. As for feedback they received about the idea for this project, the girls said that other students were interested in helping out. “People were like, ‘I want to do it,’” said DeMarco. “I feel like a lot of people want to ride to school together.”
As a part of their project, the girls looped in members of the community from the Greater Mercer County Sustainability Team, Sustainable Lawrence, the Lawrence Police Department and other local groups. During the biking audits, Lawrence Police were aware that students were working on auditing near Princeton Pike and 206. DeMarco’s mom also parked on Franklin Corner Road, one of the most dangerous roads for bikers, and held up a sign that said, “Bikers Ahead!” to warn cars.
The first thing the girls focused on was finding someone to help with their audit. According to Gallagher, the girls went to speak with the Greater Mercer Transportation Green Team and went to a open meeting where they met their bike safety guide, Jerry Foster, walking and biking specialist and one of the Safe Routes to School Coordinators for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association. He offered to help Gallagher and DeMarco with their project by assisting them with their audit.
DeMarco and Gallagher went with Foster on a preliminary audit to figure out which route they wanted to take. It took two hours of exploring to decide on the right route. “We took pictures of the safe roads and the unsafe roads,” said Gallagher. “[We wanted to look at them and] and see if this would be a safe place to perform a biking audit.”
They had a few different routes in mind, but settled on the one they took on Oct. 10. “It’s safer because it’s off-road,” said DeMarco, “so there’s no chance of anyone being hit by a car.” Even on Franklin Corner Road, the most precarious road to be on, “we are on the wider part of the road with the sidewalk.”
Sept. 28 was the day the girls planned on conducting the biking audit, but because it rained, they did a preliminary audit together the following day before involving other students. “We wanted to do a practice, just so we knew which way to go,” said Gallagher. It took them 20 to 30 minutes to run through the biking audit the second time, after going through and exploring different paths the first time.
On Oct. 10, Gallagher and DeMarco led the biking audit starting from Lawrenceville Fuel gas station to the two schools with other students to repeat the process but with more help.
A safe biking path that students can use to either ride their bikes or walk, to school, to a nearby friend’s house, or to the local Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks. A safer way to bike to school is not the only benefit of a safer biking path—it allows students to be more social, more active and have more independence.
The scouts decided to “connect communities” from the north end of Lawrence to the south end with sustainability. According to LHT’s website, the trails were created to make “as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible.” Gallagher and DeMarco made it a priority to take sustainability into account for their biking audit.
Both girls are happy about this project. “We’re really excited,” said DeMarco, “I’ve ridden my bike to her house on the path that we’ve found.”
Gallagher points out that this path involves going on roads that are “not that safe.”
“What we want is when we ride our bikes to school is a moment for people to realize they can ride their bike to school, maybe not alone, but with a friend or groups,” Gallager said.