Mary Pat Clarke, Candidate for City Council-14th 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?

MPC: I am fortunate to live in a walkable neighborhood, and I often walk to meetings with my constituents in local cafes or schools. Like most American cities, Baltimore has focused transportation resources on moving automobiles rapidly through our communities. An over-emphasis on automobile travel has created street conditions that are often unsafe or inaccessible for pedestrians and bicyclists. To redress this imbalance, Baltimore needs to integrate “complete streets” principles into all transportation projects. Priorities should include implementing existing plans, particularly the

Bicycle Master Plan and the Strategic Transportation Safety Plan (both found on the DOT website), and working with neighborhood associations to make ad-hoc safety changes. DOT can improve conditions for walkers, bicyclists, and wheelchair users quickly and relatively inexpensively with paint, ADA curb-cuts, and flexible bollards. DOT should use these types of tools to expedite change.

DOT should expend more resources on public education to increase awareness of driver, bicyclist and pedestrian responsibilities in the public right of way, and to explain new design approaches to better accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians (see Question #3).

DOT needs to keep critical positions filled. The agency needs to ensure that management level personnel understand and support “complete streets” principles, and are accessible and responsive to citizens. The position, Chief of the Traffic Division, has been unfilled for most of the past two years.

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

MPC: Biking and walking are ways in which people can enjoy exercise and the outdoors. They are also affordable ways for people to travel to work, school, and other destinations, or to connect to public transit. Unlike driving, these “non-motorized” forms of transportation reduce traffic congestion while having no negative impacts on air quality, water quality, or our climate. Walking and bicycling regularly can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. And getting along with one less car can save a family several thousand of dollars a year that can be used for housing, education or other needs.

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?

MPC: Streets that are too wide encourage speeding by signaling drivers that it is safe to accelerate. Wide turns at corners make it easier to speed through intersections. DOT has narrowed vehicle travel lanes on streets, and tightened curb radii at corners throughout the city using bump-outs, flexible bollards and paint in order to slow traffic and improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. DOT has initiated traffic circles, and protected bike lanes adjacent to floating parking zones, to slow vehicle traffic and make walkers and bicyclists safer. The agency has selectively removed on-street parking spaces to “daylight” corners, making walkers and bicyclists move visible to drivers and safer.

Many of these changes are controversial. Change is difficult, and it can be particularly hard to adjust to changes that we are not expecting or do not understand. DOT could take a more proactive role in educating the public about new ways of accommodating cars, bicyclists, and walkers in the public right of way. In addition to signage and community meetings, DOT could use public service announcements, and coordinate public information messages with the State’s “Street Smart” public education program. In addition, DOT needs to make sure that changes to street and parking patterns are well-designed and sensitive to context.

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?

MPC: I co-sponsored the bill, adopted in 2012, that mandated performance and financial audits of certain key city agencies, including DOT, every four years. DOT’s recently-completed performance audit found the agency to be lacking in “oversight, accountability and internal controls.”

A recent study by the Abell Foundation (cd-opacity1015) set out to analyze Baltimore City infrastructure contract overruns using publicly available data from city records. The researchers were not able to obtain data that was complete or robust enough to answer their basic research questions. Baltimore City residents need to know that public funds are being used wisely. The study and audit cited above indicate the need for greater transparency and accountability in the city’s and DOT’s contracting and oversight. Residents are rightly concerned when they see mistakes such as those that occurred during the recent repaving of Roland Avenue. The city should not be in the position of having to tell residents that scarce public resources are being used to fix unnecessary mistakes rather than to fund needed transportation improvements.

The City Council needs to take a closer look at the city’s contracting policies and processes at both the agency and Board of Estimates level. As a member of the Land Use and Transportation Committee, I will request a public hearing with DOT to determine how the agency plans to address the findings and recommendations of the performance audit.

While the Mayor is responsible for agency performance, and the Board of Estimates is responsible for awarding contracts, the City Council has the authority to provide oversight. I will exercise my authority as a member of the City Council to ensure DOT’s accountability to 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?

MPC: The City needs to invest more in sustainable transportation, to use existing transportation resources more efficiently, and to ensure that transportation funds are allocated appropriately among the various modes.

At the City, State and Regional levels we need to shift the focus of transportation investments from automobiles and highways to neighborhood streets and buses, and the needs of bikers and walkers. We need to use resources to move people, not just cars. Many bicycle and pedestrian facilities can be created for the cost of a single highway interchange. We need to build a regional constituency to demand high-quality, regional transit. And we need to elect officials at all levels of government who support public transit investments. Millions of public dollars were spent to plan the Red Line, which has been quashed by our current governor. Elections have consequences.

Several large cities have approved ballot initiatives to pay for new, local public transit. We also need to ensure that the City is taking advantage of all available state, federal, and private resources to address sustainable transportation needs.

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?

MPC: While 30% of Baltimore residents do not have a vehicle for personal use, the lack of a car is not uniform across the city. People without a car are disproportionately dependent on public transit, have the longest commutes, and disproportionally live in low-income neighborhoods. Data from the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance show wide disparities between the city’s poorest and most affluent neighborhoods for all of these transportation access indicators.

 It is critical that city officials hold the Maryland Transit Administration and state elected officials accountable for the quality of the local bus service on which so many city residents depend. This service has a longstanding reputation for being unreliable, not customer-oriented, and lacking in realtime (next-bus) information.

Improved public transit service can make a significant impact in reducing economic and racial disparities in Baltimore. Long commutes reduce the time parents have to spend with their children, and create unnecessarily long days for students who commute by bus, reducing time for after-school recreation and homework. The city’s circulator buses are wonderful, but they cannot substitute for the MTA bus service for the large number of Baltimore residents who commute to job centers in the suburbs, or for our school children who take the bus.

Ultimately, the city’s most vulnerable residents will be best served by a well-connected, intermodal, regional transit system that serves a wide variety of users.

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

MPC:  I have worked with the City’s bicycle community for many years on legislation and mandates including Baltimore’s Complete Streets policy, the Bicycle Bill of Rights, requirements that police be trained about bikers rights, requirements that commercial and residential developments provide on-site bicycle parking, and requirements that perpendicular street grates be provided when streets are reconstructed. Many of the parking space requirements have been rolled into the proposed new Baltimore Zoning Code with the input of bicycle advocacy organizations.