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: I make sure – even in the winter - to walk several miles each week from my home to various locations, which gives me an opportunity to regularly meet people in the district and learn more about their interests and modes of transportation. When the weather is warmer, I bike all over the city; I ride a hybrid between a street and mountain bike, which gives me great flexibility to travel throughout Baltimore.
Because of the proximity of my office to my home, I do not rely on public transportation for commuting to work. However, I am very familiar with the commuting, as many of my closest friends commute to work, using bus, light rail and/or MARC train.
From my conversations with residents who use public transportation to navigate through the city, commuters are frequently complaining about travel time and costs to get to their jobs, and we have to make the city an easier place to work. For example, I have heard concern about insufficient parking at Mt. Washington Light Rail station, which is something we need to review, explore, and potential resolve. For those who ride buses regularly, there are complaints about insufficient bus shelters, which we must provide to protect them during inclement weather. Another area to explore for popular bus routes in offering digital displays of upcoming bus arrivals, so people know how soon their bus will arrive. It relieves frustrations and enables bus riders to call work if there are expected bus delays.
Those who walk and bike to work, or for personal errands or recreation, have concerns about their safety, and we should prioritize resources that benefit them, including working with transportation and safety agencies to create more bike lanes. I also believe we have to expand bike share opportunities, which not only encourage healthy riding, but offers an inexpensive transportation alternative to vehicles.
The city also must ensure equity in transportation priorities. Funding and projects should be spread through the city’s neighborhoods; today, low-income neighborhoods often do not receive sufficient priority for funding, and those are the ones with greatest need.
What role do you believe biking and walking improvements can play in creating a safer, healthier, more livable Baltimore?
IS: I believe in today’s era of obesity, traffic issues, and pollution, we must emphasize the benefits of biking and walking to work. First and foremost, we must have strong publicity campaigns that encourage it, but we must initiate efforts that improve those options, both logistically and safety-wise.
We have to offer opportunities for people to bike more safely and affordably. Bike lanes will help ensure safety while helping to reduce congestion, noise, and air pollution, while enabling people to be more physically fit.
Bike sharing can play a very beneficial role in Baltimore City, as it has in other urban areas. It serves as a great connection between points in someone’s commute via public transportation, where there aren’t other options. Currently, the gaps between public transportation in Baltimore is a frequently cited reason why more people do not use public transportation. Bike sharing is often rejected because of costs to the government, but the benefits are great and the city should explore subsidizing costs, for example, by advertising on the bikes.
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: A public relations effort to help the public understand planned changes can help increase awareness of the long-term benefits that will result from the short term inconveniences. In terms of long-term inconveniences, they can be alleviated with a community forum at which the public can raise issues and work with city officials to find solutions.
The proper planning and designing of bike lanes is critical.
While drivers generally believe that bike lanes cause more traffic congestion, proper designing and planning can actually decrease it. The City must inform the public of planned designs in advance, illustrating how traffic congestion has been considered.
And often, street parking and number of lanes can be considered in planning, and not necessarily reduced. In one section of New York City, planners were able to reduce the width of existing parking and driving lanes but keep the same amount, so adding a bike lane did not decrease what was already in existence. By providing documentation of existing examples, drivers will learn that the bike lane can actually reduce their travel time and congestion, without affecting parking spaces available. If the City commits to smart street design, it will be a win-win for everyone.
Prior to and during the implementation of the plan, the city should offer an option on the 311 line where people can submit their concerns which would be considered.
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?
IS: There must be a consensus of the set of key performance indicators. The public should know what the governmental expectations are in reducing air quality, traffic congestion, and other benefits, and expectations and results must be made available to the public in an open and transparent manner.
Requiring regular reports to the public – before, during, and after the planning process - would help them feel the transparency. So can creating a committee, comprised of officials from different agencies as well as relevant non-profits and even community leaders, who ensure that agencies are working together and not independent of each other.
Moreover, I would work to understand the current processes utilized by city agencies, and to involve management consultants on a pro-bono basis to determine if changes need to be made in the processes.
We need to explore what was successful in other cities. For example, in Charlotte, the Department of Transportation created a six-step process - The Urban Street Design Guidelines – as a tool to plan and design transportation and travel changes in the city. Having good processes, publicizing the processes and the results, and providing regular reports to the public on the success of the projects can help alleviate concerns of the public.
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: I believe the city has done some great work, but there is still a great need and sustainable transportation solutions must be a greater priority, particularly in light of reduced funding from the state and federal governments.
The city produces an annual report that provides information about sustainable transportation efforts, so we know what is working and where greater funds need to be prioritized. I believe that the city has seen tremendous progress, including the Circulator and increased bike use. As we review the annual results and determine what is working, we must prioritize those areas for expansion and increased progress, working closely with non-profits and professionals in those specific areas to determine what is appropriate levels of investing. We must utilize appropriate technology that can help reduce costs while increasing success.
Documentation indicates that in some urban areas across the country, sustainable transportation has been a recruiting tool to entice people back to Baltimore. The city must greatly publicize what it offers, as more residents and businesses relocating to the city will increase revenue to continue expanding the sustainable transportation solutions. We lack sufficient PR for sustainable transportation, but that is very costly. We should explore creative ways to raise awareness, such as partnering with some of the local universities to have their college students compete to create PR campaigns for sustainable transportation.
We must ensure that current projects (such as the Bicycle Master Plan) have sufficient funding for the long-term implementation, and that other badly needed solutions are implemented, with funding set aside for them.
To that end, I would explore the opportunity to designate a transportation fund for Baltimore City, to ensure that there is an automatic minimal funding every year of city dollars that cannot be re-designated.
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: As previously mentioned, we must ensure equity in transportation funding, particularly in low-income areas. Traveling from one part of the city to another can be very cumbersome and lengthy, as well as costly. Moreover, the connectivity issues in public transportation often cause greater commutes in certain areas.
And while many city residents benefit from biking, it is possible that some of the most vulnerable residents cannot afford to purchase a bicycle and helmet, or to secure it properly from theft. We should explore partnering with corporations at the local, state and national levels to provide such equipment to city residents with local employment who could benefit from such. And bike sharing would benefit this population, particularly offering highly subsidized or free bike sharing for residents from certain zip codes.
Furthermore, we must work to entice new companies with appropriate jobs (and job training) closer to areas where residents have extremely lengthy commutes.
What other information about your candidacy would you like to share with our members?
IS: Coming from the private sector, I bring the ability to approach transportation issues from a different perspective and new direction. My lengthy and strong record of community activism and success in working with community organizations and government agencies demonstrates my commitment to improving Baltimore, the city in which I have been a third-generation resident and in which I am raising my own family. I understand the transportation issues our residents face, and I bring the experience to be a fresh and loud voice on solving them. I believe if we work to bring more jobs to Baltimore, residents could stop commuting out of the city for work. If we lower crime, residents would feel safer using public transportation, particularly those who work beyond the traditional 9-5 jobs. And if we appropriately prioritize city funding for improved transportation, we could entice more people and businesses to our cities. April 26th is your opportunity to make tremendous change for Baltimore, and I will lead that effort.