Joshua Harris, Green Party Candidate for Mayor

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?

JH: I use other modes of transportation approximately 2 times a week. In my opinion, the “Westside” should be a location of priority. My vision for transportation is a complete transit system with solar light rail system that connects Richmond with Philadelphia. Measurable outcomes would include a commuter rail system that connects the suburbs and both coming under the auspice of a regional transportation authority. Also, in terms of prioritizing resources, the bus network is where most of our transit ridership is and it needs more practical approach. While the MTA is run by the State of Maryland, I will advocate to ensure that the plan goes beyond simply moving a few bus routes and towards a comprehensive and reliable bus network - and I will make sure that the city makes simple, cost-effective improvements to roads, sidewalks, and bike-sharing infrastructure that will guarantee we maximize the benefit from a robust network.

What role do you believe biking and walking improvements can play in creating a safer, healthier, more livable Baltimore?

JH: Those improvements provide alternative activities that promote environment, economic, energy, public health and transportation benefits but more importantly, overall well-being. An active city is a healthy city. When people are out walking and biking in Baltimore, they are getting exercise and they are building relationships with their neighbors - instead of being stuck in their car, where long driving commute times have been proven to lead to high levels of stress. After experiencing the extensive use of bikes in Europe and cities like Minneapolis, I understand the key role bikes can play in the overall reduction of greenhouse gases and livability of our city. It is my plan to expand the use of bike lanes and pedestrian paths within the city to create complete Streets that are designed for a variety of modes of transportation, including pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, have been proven to result in better health outcomes for the people who take advantage of them. Even for those who are driving, there are the benefits of cleaner air and safer streets that result from having fewer cars on the road. More people walking can also serve as a deterrent to crime, when encouraged alongside public safety initiatives like better lighting that lead to pedestrians feeling more comfortable on our city streets.

Are you supportive of the city’s plan to implement bike share in 2016? If so, what do you believe to be the critical components of success?

JH: Yes - I believe that Baltimore needs to move forward with our bike share plan and start  putting more bikes on the streets as soon as possible. However its will or should depend on the quality of pre-planning prior to the issuance of the RFP. The most critical component of the bike share program is the planning. The first priority is to actually follow through with the implementation of bike share, which has been delayed multiple times - it can’t be  successful until we have it. As the program is being put into place, there needs to be an ongoing effort to make sure that people are informed about the program and aware of its benefits, especially in communities that have not traditionally been served well by programs in other cities. The Department of Transportation needs to also have a continuous feedback process from users of the system, to understand what is working and what is not. There are also needs to be a priority on guaranteeing access for everyone, including making sure that low-income neighborhoods are not passed over and that barriers for low-income communities are being overcome, so that everyone benefits from the system.

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?

JH: As a newly elected officeholder in a leadership position, it would be unwise to proceed without a 90-day assessment of each agency, culminating with the agency head developing a preliminary strategic plan aligned with the broader objective of my tenure. We will go beyond the existing performance audit and get a financial audit from the Department of Transportation. There must be transparency nd accountability in the money, then there’s no way of knowing whether or not any expenditures are resulting in performance improvements. Under my administration, we will look closely at both performance and financial measurements and regularly evaluate and assess the leadership at the Department of Transportation, to ensure that they are making acceptable levels of progress and that there are appropriate controls in place.

What impact do you see increasing rates of biking and walking in Baltimore having on the public health and safety of our residents? In what ways will your administration invest in the creation of safe places to encourage more people to engage in physical activity?

JH: First, a biking and walking have the potential to increase personal health of residents significantly and next, they will reduce the adverse effects on the environment. As a Green Party candidate, it is part of my core to protect and increase green spaces proportionate to the built environment. Moreover, many preventable illnesses in Baltimore, including heart disease and diabetes, are related to lifestyle and diet, and promoting active transportation such as biking and walking leads to longer, higher quality lives for the people who live here. Getting cars off the street also needs to make sure that we have great places for people to go, including investing in our recreation centers and local neighborhood green spaces. One area where we have a major opportunity to do this is in our schools, where the 21st Century Building Plan and the INSPIRE Planning Process are already looking at how brand new school buildings can become local neighborhood destinations. We need to take full advantage of those processes to make sure that we are creating safe routes for children to walk to school, and build out those safe routes as well to our recreation centers, playgrounds, and other neighborhood assets.

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?

JH: In the immediate, it is my goal to evaluate the new plan to reroute commuter buses around the metro area and then determine if the impact on city residents is disproportionate, as some have alleged. If there is merit to this claim, we will work with the Governor to consider what other options remains with less interference.

Knowing that currently our bus network is the primary way that people from high-commute time neighborhoods are getting to work, so solving that issue starts with the buses. Transit signal priority, dedicated bus lanes, and improved on-time performance.

Long-term investments, like true Bus Rapid Transit and new railways, also need to be a part of the agenda. The city cannot afford to stop planning for major infrastructure improvements that will make sure people are able to get to the family-supporting wage jobs available throughout the Baltimore region. In the short-term, we can make incremental improvements by evaluating land use, zoning and road plans in major corridors - designing for transit, instead of single-occupancy vehicles - and by creating innovative partnerships with local employers, like the transportation management district model used in Montgomery County.

Often road redesigns that improve the safety for people on bikes or people walking do so in a way that removes priority for single occupancy 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?

JH: In addition to the inconveniences described, another complaint is, “when you see bike lanes, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and Chipotle, you know that is not for me”. Such implications have merit however, that is the reason emphasis should be placed on planning because expectations of displacement are real and should be addressed through comprehensive and community inclusive planning.

There needs to be a pre-existing dialogue where trust can be built between the city and local communities, and where people have the opportunity to be educated about the overall vision and what we will accomplish. That conversation needs to happen before a potentially contentious project is proposed, not after. Second, time and resources need to be put into community engagement efforts that take seriously the concerns of residents, and that explain both the process of how transportation decisions are made and what the overall impacts of projects are. These efforts will always be clear about the benefits of a given change, and realistic about the possible negative impacts. One of the important tools I will focus on is doing pilot projects that allow people to see what the actual impacts are and get used to the changes that will be made before they become permanent - e.g., temporarily removing street parking or closing down a traffic lane. Phasing in changes in this way allows people to see how the project will affect them, while also allowing my administration to make any adjustments to the proposal that may be necessary after it goes through the “real world” test.

What other information about your candidacy would you like to share with our members?

JH: As a Green Party candidate, my goal is to develop and implement a comprehensive plan of sustainability to take Baltimore into the 2lst century.