In an effort to educate voters, we will be posting responses to our candidate questionnaire. Questionnaires were emailed to each candidate running for City Council, President of City Council, and Mayor. Candidates have until March 4th to submit. We are publishing results in the order they are received.
How frequently do you use a mode of transportation other than your car to navigate the city? Based on your experience, where should the city prioritize resources for transportation?
IS: My wife and I rent an apartment in the city. One of the biggest factors in choosing an apartment is whether or not it is in a walkable community. Every place we’ve lived within Baltimore City, has been intentionally close to businesses that we use on a regular basis. We’ve lived in Charles Village right on Charles street. We’ve lived right in the heart of Fells Point near many bars and restaurant. The dream for me is to live directly above where I work and on the same street as the shops that I frequent.
My wife and I share one car and frequently one of us will need to take public or other alternate modes of transportation. We’ll take the lightrail to doctors appointments and the charm city circulator to city hall or jury duty, the MARC train to DC, Amtrak to NYC, and city buses to shopping centers. As a last resort, because it is a bit pricy, we also use Zipcar.
After watching the city start, cancel, and then restart so many transportation projects. Especially ones that rely on funding that we ultimately don’t have control over, my priority for transportation is a clear vision and goal for how we visualize transportation in our city in the next 10, 25, and 50 years into the future. Then when the city does secure funding, we’ve already cleared a lot of hurdles so we can make sure the funding gets spent before a new local, state, or federal administration takes power.
As city councilor, I will focus on following our civic advocacy groups, like Bikemore itself, to find out what direction they are looking in with their specific area of expertise. But I do feel that we should prioritize, as a city council, streetscaping, a complete streets model, and improving our bus infrastructure. Especially when it comes to things the city has the most control over, such as heated, enclosed, and aesthetically pleasing bus shelters and loading areas.
Something that absolutely confounds me about our city is that we never look at other models around the globe for inspiration. Particularly in South America there are some excellent models that Baltimore could adopt that are low-cost, aesthetically pleasing, and focus on how to increase ridership on buses to bring them up to parity to what you would see in a well used, local rail system.
What role do you believe biking and walking improvements can play in creating a safer, healthier, more livable Baltimore?
IS: Walking and biking are definitely some of the best activities we can do to be healthy as individuals. Using gas-guzzling cars also have an impact on our city and environment, and fewer people driving cars reduces the safety risks that driving can pose. Prioritizing cycling and pedestrian safety, particularly along busy roads like Charles Street, amounts to improving all aspects of life.
I believe in a complete streets approach to biking and walking. This means having a clear vision driven by community input for what are streets will look like. Then consulting with local experts about the best way to achieve cyclist and pedestrian (including children and handicapped individuals) access. For example, on a street where there is typically 40 MPH plus traffic, complete streets would prescribe a neighborhood appropriate guardrail. On a street that is supposed to be 25 MPH, but that is experiencing a large amount of speeding, streetscaping elements could be used in conjunction with bike paths and parking lanes to street calm.
Often road redesigns that improve the safety for people on bikes or people walking do so in a way that removes priority for single occupant vehicles. This can look like removing lanes for travel or decreasing available street parking. Can you describe how you would manage public expectations during project implementation, and handle any backlash from constituents that don’t share in the City’s vision for complete streets?
IS: Neighborhoods change and it’s of the utmost importance that city councilors are in constant communication with all affected residents, not just the residents that know how to push buttons in city hall. When we spend a disproportionate about of time focusing on one very vocal neighbor’s complaint about a project, we send a message to the neighborhood as a whole that ordinary, busy people with jobs and families to take care of simply don’t have the time or the means to be as well represented by their leaders.
I have years of mediation and facilitation experience. I especially have experience facilitating very large groups of people to come to some sort of consensus to move on with the project. I know from firsthand experience that people need a variety of ways to express how they feel about a certain project or certain vision. For example, taking an online poll or checking some boxes on a website is as convenient to some people as writing an email to a friend. But others in our city and in my district will be much more comfortable in a community meeting or a phone survey.
As I said in the previous question, getting community buy-in and consensus at the beginning of a vision or a project is critical. But just as critical is continuing to inform the affected neighbors about what is happening with the project. Otherwise some neighbors will be in the know and might be able to manipulate the actual work of the project while others may be dismayed, thinking the project is not happening at all or not knowing that they’re moving into an area where a particular project is going on.
My technology background and my background in community facilitation puts me in an excellent position to begin rolling out some basic technical tools that will keep citizens informed about what’s happening in their neighborhoods. The same way that most technologically savvy public transportation users expect to see real-time updates about services outages and next arrivals to plan their trip, we should expect that they will want the same level of real-time information, perhaps with more detail, on local projects that affect their small portion of the city. I intend to make that information available.
Recent audits have discovered that the Department of Transportation struggles to measure key performance indicators. The city’s procurement and project management processes have also faced scrutiny. This has led to significant delays of key improvements to bicycle infrastructure in Baltimore. How will you work to improve performance and accountability of city agencies like the Department of Transportation under your leadership?
We don’t have good performance indicators for many city departments. This problem is not just isolated to the DOT. I won’t repeat myself too much here as I feel I’ve given some answers above that speak to this. But suffice it to say you can’t know what outcomes to expect if you don’t have a clear vision and clear goals. This goes for whole departments and specific projects. The best example I can think of relating to transit is our city’s non-existent bike share program. I’ve heard from some concerned biking citizens that the purpose of the project is to replicate the bike share in DC here in Baltimore. That’s a very corporate model in my opinion. Other concerned citizens who work at local bike stores were celebrating when they got the city to consider local vendors in this next attempt. But still they had their doubts that a goal of the project was to actually use local vendors. It’s moving targets like this that produce the results we get. Total mismanagement and loss of funds as the city comes across as incompetent and as it’s unable to handle simple questions from local companies trying to bid on a project.
The percentage of people choosing to take public transit or ride a bike for transportation is increasing in Baltimore, while the percentage of residents without access to a vehicle is over 30%. How would you rate the city’s current investment in sustainable transportation solutions for its residents, and as a council person what would you do to support increased investment?
IS: As a member of the Green Party I can talk to you at length about the variety of sustainable transportation options available. I applaud Bikemore for actually pointing out that these options exist, because our city seems allergic to them. We’ve had no shortage of advocacy groups pitching one project or another. Numerous ideas about Baltimore Streetcars have been pushed for years. Obviously the Red Line would of been another sustainable project. But really any rail project or bus project yields huge dividends from an environmental, and financial, sustainability standpoint. I don’t want to be the next councilman that spends 4 years figuring out a new pet rail project that then dies out in funding. I want to increase ridership year after year, month after month. And I think having real time metrics, complete streets, streetscaping that prioritizes buses and bus enclosures are how we do it in the short term. Of course I will work alongside any group looking to get rail funding for our city. But I will advise them that unless it meets a clear vision and clear neighborhood goals that the funding might evaporate before the project gets off the ground.
A recent study by Harvard economists found that the single strongest factor affecting the odds of a child escaping poverty is not the test scores of his or her local schools or the crime in the community; it is the percent of workers in his or her neighborhood who have long commutes. How do you plan to improve transportation options and commute times for our most vulnerable residents?
IS: One of my biggest complaints about the Governor's Baltimore Link plan is that it unfairly prioritizes the needs of certain more affluent neighborhoods and county residents over the needs of residents in poorer neighborhoods that rely so heavily on bus transit. I have years of activist organizing experience in Baltimore. I think at certain times protesting and community organizing and activism are essential. This is one of those times, especially when it comes to the Link. We desperately need community led action and organizing that gives community members from all neighborhoods a say in how the bus system should be organized. Anything less is anti-democratic. And the same goes for rail projects. We must be more egalitarian with transportation funding of all sorts.
What other information about your candidacy would you like to share with our members?
IS: I'm running because we need a city councilor that will put people before profits! Every month our city finds new ways to give more city services to multinational corporations. That puts the concerned citizen in a state of constantly fighting against water privatization, bus services being privatized, polluting incinerators being built right next to schools, etc... Enough is Enough! We need a leader in city hall who will lead the fight against these giveaways and put people before profits. I am the one candidate in this race that will consistently fight against giveaways to large corporations. I will never pander to corporate interests. I have a vision for a Baltimore in which the City Council prioritizes the needs of people - the right to fair wages, quality housing, healthcare and income security - first.
And I have a plan for winning a $15/hour minimum wage, stopping all corporate tax giveaways, ending the monopolies of BGE and Comcast, and immediately housing the city's homeless population. All it takes is the recognition that the people of Baltimore - not the corporations of Baltimore - are what matter.