Op-Alt: We can fix Baltimore's streets

As the Executive Director of Bikemore, Baltimore's livable streets advocacy organization I was grateful to see the dangers people walking in Baltimore City face highlighted in the recent article entitled "Walk Hard: Baltimore is unsafe and unsympathetic to pedestrians." At Bikemore, our daily work is spent shedding light on how vehicle traffic in Baltimore is often prioritized over the safety of human beings walking and riding bikes. These decisions not only decrease public safety but also our quality of life.

The article accurately discussed how our road designs, laws, and policies often favor those behind the wheel of a car. But what the article failed to discuss was how inherently solvable these problems really are. To generalize and simply say Baltimore as a city doesn't care ignores the fact that it is not some nebulous force that causes our roads to be this dangerous, but the daily actions of our elected leaders, appointed officials and city employees. People with power are consciously making decisions that disregard the health and safety of the citizens they are supposed to serve, and they need to be held accountable. The people that lead our city's agencies--most notably the Department of Transportation have failed on multiple levels to to design and build safer streets--streets that improve public safety and public health by encouraging biking and walking. This failure is not only out of line with how the majority of American cities now design their streets, but is grossly negligent.

In 2012, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke introduced a Complete Streets Resolution that states that all road projects must factor all modes of travel into the design. In 2013, then DOT Director William Johnson instituted a complimentary internal policy. Neither of these policies have the teeth to usher in the institutional change necessary to make roads safer for all users. Both are consistently unenforced. 

Elected officials and agency heads are also masters at selling the citizens of Baltimore a narrative of scarcity. "It costs too much to design and maintain roads meant for all users," they say. Meanwhile 19 miles of bike and pedestrian improvements have been funded for years, but remain unbuilt due to no other reason than lack of political will. Never mind these improvements typically cost pennies on the dollar compared to any other transportation project, and boast much larger rates of return. Never mind that 35% of Baltimore City residents do not own a vehicle, and yet the percentage of transportation funding spent on biking, walking and transit is not equitable to the money spent accommodating vehicle traffic. Never mind they spent hundreds of hours of staff time assuaging the dozen or so residents of Roland Park that opposed a bike lane, while the people of Auchentoroly Terrace—who are equally active and well organized—can't safely cross the street to access Druid Hill Park—a park they can see from their front steps.

Our city is unsafe for people walking and people biking not because of a lack of resources, not because our roads won't accommodate modern complete streets design, but because our Mayor and our Department of Transportation have become negligent. As a city we are facing a public health crisis on multiple fronts.

To not solve issues of inactivity, air quality, and road safety that are firmly within our grasp is not simply apathetic—it's unconscionable. 

Too often citizens have resorted to believing our city is beyond fixing. The solutions to address violent crime, substance abuse, and transportation have so far eluded us. But making the streets safer for biking and walking is something we can address in single Mayoral term. This is a fight we can win. Those interested in helping to build the force for biking and walking in Baltimore are encouraged to join us by becoming a member of Bikemore. The leaders in Baltimore need to hear from you, and Bikemore is ready to be your megaphone.

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