Dea Thomas, Candidate for City Council-11th 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?

DT: I began my public service career ten years ago on the Ben Cardin for U.S. Senate campaign. I was honored to serve Maryland’s constituency at Capitol Hill on his behalf. My commute to Washington D.C. included walking to the Camden Line MARC train station and utilizing the MARC rail system daily. After working in the U.S. Senate, I joined local 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU). During this time I walked to 1199SEIU’s Eutaw Street office and often used my bike to commute. A healthy region is one that circulates its people and goods effectively and efficiently in terms of time, cost, energy, security, and dignity. The transportation network needs to support the region’s economy and provide its residents with a sense of comfort all while limiting negative impacts to our environmental health and natural landscape.

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

DT: It should play a major role. More opportunities and increased incentives for safer pedestrian and bicycle access to our roads will reduce traffic, increase sustainability, and improve our quality of life. Most important, caring about the overall health of Baltimoreans means expanding the ability for pedestrians and bicyclists to access our most vital services, businesses, and cultural and religious venues. Substituting walking or bicycling with driving one or two trips each day dramatically reduces the amount of cars on the road. With each reduced car trip, households are realizing reduced energy costs and polluting less. Over time and on a citywide scale, these savings are significant. The changes in infrastructure required to make Baltimore more conducive to pedestrian and bicycle traffic also nudges drivers to be less aggressive and forces communities to be planned around cooperative and sustainable means of transportation.

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?

DT: The Eleventh District stretches along major city roads and important points of interests for workers, students, industry, sports fans and tourists – public transportation, and streets that improve bike and pedestrian safety are critical for us. Creating dedicated bike lanes and implementing changes to make the district safer for pedestrians and bicyclists would be welcome since we have a constituency that is less reliant on cars. Also, our residential neighborhoods are often inundated with traffic from other parts of the city and region. We share a vision for complete streets because they could drastically reduce congestion in the district. However, it is critical to get as much buy-in as possible from residents for any significant change in infrastructure. I would make the case for these changes directly to constituents, keeping them informed of developments during project implementation, and making certain our concerns are championed. Most important, as with all projects that have an impact on residents and are funded with public resources, everyone must commit to a transparent process. We can prevent adverse reactions generated by distrust of the process by including residents in the process and at every step.

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?

DT: We have to do more than continue to demand more audits of our agencies, especially those where we can readily identify inefficiencies and make constructive changes. Immediately instituting rules and best practices that ensure transparency are among the better ways to move us forward. As an avid cyclist, and resident of a district that would benefit greatly from a bike share program, I would make the completion and successful deployment of the Charm City Bikeshare project a top priority. Accomplishing this, and successfully dealing with the Department of Transportation requires a councilperson that will work tirelessly to bring community stakeholders and agency leadership together to forge productive relationships. I am committed to this, as I am committed to changing the way we hold our agencies accountable by promoting a culture of transparency.

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?

DT: A late bus is not simply an inconvenience. It can result in lost wages, and maybe a lost job. Our inability to establish a safe and complete system of bike lanes introduces high levels of risk for those who are helping to reduce the amount of car traffic on our roads. We need to dedicate not only more funding for sustainable transportation solutions, but more thought into how we improve other modes of public transportation in Baltimore and improving bike and pedestrian access. A comprehensive review of our strategic plan concerning transportation would be a great start. Given the state’s control of MTA, we need to find creative ways to address mass transit. This begins with advocating for an expanded Circulator and finding leverage to force the state to make the timely and professional operation of our buses a priority. The city can and should address safety and security at our bus stops and on our streets. 

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?

DT: We must fix transportation disparities that adversely impact underserved communities. As jobs have migrated beyond our city’s borders, commute times have increased dramatically reducing time available for parents to raise their children. We need to invest in better public transportation options that address the changing needs of our residents. For example, many cities promote rideshare programs as a part their public transit offerings. These programs use apps and other technologies that are in widespread use, even among underserved communities, to connect commuters with other options to get to and from work in areas that are not served by reliable public transportation.

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

DT: I maintain that one of the best environmental solutions we could offer our city is a strong public transportation system. A strong public transportation system would also improve and sustain overall quality of life. Commuting 40 minutes or less is closely tied to the ability to pull oneself out of poverty. Middle class residents spend a large percentage of their income and time commuting; decreasing their wealth, and personal health. Efficient commuting is imperative to personal and regional health and at present many of the job centers are outside of the city limits. I would work with regional partners to improve the commuting experience for all income levels, advocate for the development of business centers around transportation hubs, and support transformative projects that increase transportation effectiveness.