Carl Stokes, Democratic 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?

CS: I use my personal vehicle, walk and light rail for ball games. My vision for transportation in Baltimore is of a city where the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on public transportation are able to get around reliably, easily, and safely. And a city where all the different modes of transportation are well-linked through transit hubs and connections. 1) Work with the state on the efficiency of the MTA bus system. The current BaltimoreLINK proposal has started the discussion but their method is not the answer. One answer lies in routes within routes. 2) Build a modern day streetcar on North Avenue from Milton-to-Hilton to move large numbers of people along North Avenue day and night, shopping, visiting, participating in city services and programs (health, education, libraries, recreational), which will help grow businesses and jobs. 3) Create three foot buffers between bike lanes and vehicles, and support the usage of flex posts to border the bike lane from the vehicle traffic. I will also highly consider for the safety of both bicyclists and pedestrians the elimination of “left on red” and the removal of “right on red” in specific high traffic bike and pedestrian areas. 4) Move towards a self-sustaining water taxi and circulator. One way is to identify who is using these modes of transportation to identify corporate partners – businesses whose employees use the circulator at a significant rate, retail businesses whose customers ride the circulator, hotels whose clients have access to the circulator, and anchor institutions that asked us to come to their sites and work out a service fee to alleviate the strains on the current budget.

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

CS: Baltimore has come a long way since issuing its bicycle master plan in 2006. And maybe some would say not enough. As Baltimore becomes a sustainable city, it must embrace the role of biking and walking. And in order to do that, we must respect our bicyclists and pedestrians. Once more bike lanes are installed, a robust public relations/educational campaign should take place throughout the city. Offering more activities at our parks will increase walking and biking, bike share near our parks will all play to improving the lives of our residents. Even knowing where recreation is available is important and as mentioned above, often it is a matter of educating citizens as to what is available.

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?

CS: I am supportive of bike sharing in Baltimore. I believe the critical component will be usage to prove it is a viable service to city residents. My concern comes with the designation of neighborhoods receiving the service. I would prefer to see more communities close to parks as a high priority. The focus seems to primarily on downtown and mid-town, whereas most of our parks are on the outer skirts of the city. I believe for this to be successful, these outer neighborhoods must participate in the program.

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?

CS: I was the person who introduced legislation in 2011 to require audits of all city agencies. After my colleagues voted against it, the bill was revived but only included a few city agencies and less frequent audits. It has now taken over three years to see anything from that legislation. As mayor I would require that all departments receive audits as a part of good government reforms. City departments need to communicate more efficiently with the citizens and business owners of Baltimore. Their work effects everyone in the city and thus should be promoted. There should be an alert system to allow folks to have a say in future plans. Improved communications could have possibly thwarted the problems with the bike lanes in Roland Park that we are experiencing now. We will also use a form of CitiStat for accountability and transparency so folks can go online and see the status of their 311 call. For all city agencies, we must hire local advocates and professionals to lead the agencies. We must look inside the agencies where current middle management have been passed over for higher ranking positions for which they are most qualified. Before hiring anyone to a top position, we will look inside the departments and within Baltimore.

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?

CS: Biking, walking and all types of exercise will improve the health of our residents and it is a proven fact that more positive activity in a community can decrease crime. My plan to improve public safety focuses on education as the start of a safe community. Policing is a response to crime, we need deterrents to crime like education, jobs, and recreational activities, especially for the children. As part of my education plan, after-school programs are a vital element and they will include sports. Recreation centers need increased and improved programming. My neighborhood redevelopment plan includes open space and playgrounds. In fact, I have convened a Task Force to address parks and open space in the city.

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?

CS: We need to work with the state on the efficiency of the MTA bus system. The current BaltimoreLINK proposal has started the discussion but their method is not the answer. One answer lies in routes within routes. A bus that runs from White Marsh to UMBC will never run on time. Some buses on that route should run the entire way with fewer stops in order to keep it moving and then a few buses on the same line should loop shorter routes– from White Marsh to Hopkins, from Hopkins to University Center, and from University Center to UMBC. I would want the state to consider making stops farther apart for several reasons. 1) in some areas of low ridership there is not a need for three stops in three blocks; 2) it is inefficient both financially and environmentally to start and stop a bus as many times as they currently do with most routes having stops every block; and 3) with fewer stops the buses will bunch less with the goal to run more efficiently. Unfortunately, eliminating stops never bodes will with riders, but I know that late buses, bunched buses, and inefficiencies in the system don’t make MTA riders happy either. I would recommend that the state work with our local transit nonprofits to do the research to find out stop ridership on the busier lines. I recall at one time, CPHA wanted to have a volunteer advocate ride certain buses and keep a head count of who got on and who got off to use for this purpose. Will eliminating or moving around stops make a difference? I will ask the state to work with a willing nonprofit to find out. Any changes and improvements to mass transit must focus on taking citizens from their homes to where the jobs are located. Amazon, which has 3,000 employees, needed to set up a shuttle from downtown so employees don’t have to take several buses over two hours to get to work. Then the city subsidized it. The MTA should run the shuttle or subsidize it, not the city.

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?

CS: This sounds much like the situation currently in Roland Park and my response to that is that city government, not just one department, does not know how to communicate and doesn’t understand community organizing. If your department has an element of outreach then these departments need an office of community organizing and outreach. Folks hired would be trained organizers knowledgeable on how to reach residents and businesses, have experience communicating complex plans in simple terms, and have existing relationships with the communities they serve. Complete streets is about all types of individuals moving from their point A to B. Whether a walker, biker, driver, or MTA rider, sidewalks must allow for safe walking, bike lanes for safe biking, etc. When making changes to make the roads safer for all, the plan must speak to everyone. I think sometimes we only talk to one particular group in a silo; we need to talk holistically when addressing communities.

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

CS: I served in the City Council for eight years in the late 80s and early 90s, owned small businesses, and co-founded two successful public schools for middle school boys. When asked to return to public service in 2010, appointed to City Council and subsequently elected, I was stunned by the disconnect between City government and the communities. I discovered, when trying to find a budget rationale to close rec centers, pools and cut the hours of others, that the city was not auditing City agencies. When I introduced legislation to require financial and performance audits biannually, a majority of my colleagues voted no; when a waterfront developer claimed to need $107 million in tax incentives, although the project could have been funded privately, I said no; while schools and neighborhood needs are so underfunded, I wondered aloud what happened.