Baltimore City is undergoing a series of agency audits for the first time in thirty years. That it took thirty years to conjure the political will to conduct financial and performance audits is in and of itself infuriating. That the first audit released, a financial and performance review of Baltimore City’s Department of Transportation revealed that the agency "provided no evidence of policies, procedures, internal controls, or accountability" for its workers' performance in most categories is maddening, although not surprising.
While Baltimore DOT has made some internal shifts toward promoting more bike and pedestrian friendly designs, we have yet to see a single project from this new line of thinking get installed. That the response to citizens waiting years for projects like the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack is that it has been hampered in State Highway Administration (SHA) review is so far past adequate that one is left to wonder--how can we believe you anymore? And if it is true, where is the political will from our Mayor and City Council to deliver on promises to Baltimore citizens and hold SHA accountable?
Since beginning my tenure as Bikemore Executive Director in May, I’ve been promised countless dates of when the Downtown Bicycle Network will go to bid. Going to bid before the end of the year is critical to ensure a March 2016 groundbreaking. This is a project that has been fully funded for years. How can we tell if the back and forth between SHA is a product of poor performance at DOT, SHA or both? The answer--we can’t. When you have no policy or procedure to measure performance or to hold an agency accountable to actually deliver on the projects it promises, the results are what we have today. Very little accomplished, very few projects even close to completion. And what incentive do employees have to actually follow through on their promises when they can rest assured knowing there will be zero consequences for failing to meet their self appointed deadlines?
What’s more, specifically in relation to the Downtown Bicycle Network--which includes the plan for the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack--DOT as of today remains firm in their statement that they are waiting for SHA approval to be finalized. Meanwhile sources at SHA have confirmed that they have released the plans to the city--although we were not able to confirm a specific date the plans were released, and still other SHA employees in their communication to DOT today have stated that approval has not been finalized. That this level of inconclusiveness is considered status quo is unacceptable.
This is just one small example of how poor performance from DOT has been allowed to remain “unchecked”. This is in no way an indictment of individual employees, who for the most part have exhibited a willingness to hear Bikemore’s concerns and help us find answers. But rather a system that forces well intentioned employees to patronize people who are merely seeking clarity--clarity that without strong systems of accountability and performance measurement seems outside their ability to provide.
I hope those running for office this election cycle recognize there is a new crop of informed voters who want more than platitudes about job growth and crime reduction. We want candidates to bring forth actual plans to rid our city of the horrible abuses those with power have allowed to go on for too long. Abuses that are well documented across all agencies, not just the Department of Transportation. We want candidates that understand the nuances of operating a cash strapped independent city, and are realistic about our locus of control. Good government isn’t something that should be aspirational for Baltimore, it’s something as voters we should demand.