Mark Parker, Candidate for City Council-1st District

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? 

MP: I sold my personal car two years ago and get around almost entirely by bicycle. In truly bad weather I'll take buses, but generally don't use them because they are slower, sometimes unreliable, cost money, and don't give me any exercise. I supplement my riding  with Zipcar and Uber depending on weather, timing, and distance.

Two priorities. First, complete streets so that pedestrians and cyclists and move around safely, and so that transit vehicles can move freely and quickly. Since I've begun riding full time I've had many conversations with my neighbors about their transit choices. The main opposition to cycling and walking--for those for whom it would make sense in terms of distance and health--is unsafe streets and the lack of infrastructure. We can fix that.

Second, we need major rail investments to serve as the backbone of our transit system. Subways, light rails, and commuter rail serve as the primary arteries for truly functional transit systems. Whatever the next proposal is now that the Red Line has been killed, we need to start the planning process now so that we can immediately push forward on it the next day a transit-friendly governor takes over in Annapolis.

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

MP: Our current streetscape is designed to accommodate cars before any other form of transportation. It was not always so--look at the compact, walkable historic neighborhoods in our city--and need not be so in the future.

Improving our design and infrastructure to make transit, walking, and cycling equally supported as forms of transportation is critical. Many Baltimore communities, especially within two or three miles of downtown, are primed to be great walking, cycling, and transit neighborhoods. They ought to be wonderfully livable places--and yet our current car-focused transportation investments leave each of them isolated from one another and without easy and safe access to the rest of 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 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? 

MP: Southeast Baltimore is perhaps one of the best places to see if a widespread complete streets vision can be accomplished, with public support, in Baltimore. First, the density and proximity to downtown and other locations makes walking and riding attractive transportation options. Second, traffic is SO terrible, the street capacity so limited, and new development so robust that nearly everyone in Southeast Baltimore, even the most car-loving and conservative people, acknowledge that there is no real future for cars alone in our section of the city. I think that a councilperson and other elected officials dedicated to a complete streets design approach could make a compelling case to Southeast residents that a different strategy would be necessary if we want to have any sort of decent transportation options or livability here.

In terms of managing public expectations, there are a few things there. Clear and consistent communication is essential. Significantly increasing the traffic mitigation fees paid by developers, and limiting the number of new parking spaces required with new development, would help satisfy many of the loudest voices on transportation and convince them that we were moving in the right direction. Finally, there would be a lot of good will earned if proposed development projects were put temporarily on hold to allow the city to catch up on the transportation improvements necessary to make those projects viable. Transportation investment lags significantly behind commercial and residential development, and catching up with deferred needs would demonstrate to residents that the City had made significant improvements in transportation planning and implementation.

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? 

MP: I was speaking today with a former high official in a different city agency. Their recommendation? Just completely replace DOT. ""It's like something out of 1975.""

The three main ways that a City Councilperson can influence an agency like DOT are: 1) public hearings demanding accountability for spending and failed projects; 2) mobilizing the power of the press and public opinion to put pressure on DOT officials to actually handle their responsibilities; 3) digging deep into DOT expenditures as part of the budget process, and withholding funds if DOT can't or refuses to answer questions related to past spending or delayed projects.

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?

MP: I would rate the city's current investment in sustainable transportation solutions to be poor--though it depends a bit on one's perspective. Compared to many other cities, our investment in transit as well as walkable & bikable streets is pathetic. Compared to our past, we're doing better and, I think, are starting to pick up the base of change around the city.

The trickiest aspect is that bus, subway, commuter rail, and light rail service are all controlled by a state agency, and significant investment in any or all of those services requires federal and state funds. I'll certainly do all that I can as a councilperson to obtain more transit funding at the state and federal level. I'll push in particular for a start on planning for the next generation of rail transit in our city.

The City Council does have significant influence over complete streets construction and the creation of new bicycle infrastructure. I'll certainly be advocating for that increased investment within the council chamber and with my fellow council members.

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? 

MP: The short fix is doing everything possible to improve bus service in Baltimore, in particular by amending and improving the governor's BaltimoreLink proposal. More substantial long-term improvements to transportation options and commute times will come through investment like expanding the subway to Morgan and beyond, as well as constructing a new east-west light rail line.

I think we'd be better off with the MTA not as a state agency but as a purely regional body paid for and supported by the local municipalities. That would improve long-term planning and provide for a more healthy and directly democratic avenue for engagement in transit oversight and improvements.

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

MP: I ride my bike places because it's the best possible transportation option for me. I have a one block commute to work. Almost the entirety of my time is spent engaged in community initiatives here in Southeast Baltimore, so I can walk to most of those commitments. Beyond that, I rarely need to go farther than seven miles--an easy and quick distance by bike. Given the challenges of city traffic and parking, I usually make it to places faster than I would by car. Plus I'm saving money and getting much-needed exercise at the same time.

The costs of owning and driving a car are often hidden. Stepping out our front door and hopping in a car feels free and easy. The reality is that car ownership costs more money than we realize, for us as individuals but also for our society as a whole: road construction and maintenance, auto accidents, time wasted in congestion, and the public health impacts of poor air quality.

Eliminating car ownership doesn't make sense, just like biking isn't the best option for everyone. But we can help make other transportation options ""make sense"" for more people if we make investments so that buses are clean and dependable, that biking on city streets is safe, and that walking through the neighborhood or to work downtown isn't dangerous. It's about using public policy and public money to create a more level playing field for all transportation options, setting residents free to weigh the real cost and benefit of each and make decisions that are good for them and the community as well.