Elizabeth Embry, 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?

EE: I have at different points in my life commuted to work by bike and by foot. I rely on MTA buses and the Circulator for short distance travel during the day. I am a runner and explore different parts of the city on long runs. In college, I biked across the country from New Haven, Connecticut to Vancouver, Canada to fundraise for Habitat for Humanity. Before law school, my best friend and I biked from Paris to Rome camping out along the way. As Mayor, I will advocate for initiatives to make public transit more equitable and affordable, I will press for greater transparency and efficiency within the Department of Transportation, I will seek to expand the reach of public transit, including through an east-west rail connection, and I will seek work to develop and support alternate modes and paths of transportation such as bike lanes to connect and grow our City.

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

EE: Biking and walking improvements will play a critical role in creating a better Baltimore. Better options for biking and walking not only create safer streets and expand options to get people to work, but also help break down the borders between neighborhoods. As Mayor, I will implement the Bike Master Plan, create a Pedestrian Master Plan, develop a Vision Zero road safety plan to make our streets safer for pedestrians, and hire additional staff members dedicated to pedestrian and bike work at DOT.

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?

EE: I fully support the City’s plan to implement a bike share system. To ensure the system’s success, it must be modeled on bike shares that are both well-used and financially sustainable. We have an excellent example of such a system in Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare. Capital Bikeshare has demonstrated the importance of using an effective pricing system and securing initial funding from federal sources. DC’s system is also a model in its scale. Baltimore’s system must be comprehensive if it is expected to serve as a legitimate transportation alternative. Nike has taken an active involvement in the Portland bike share system; a similar partnership with Under Armour could improve the initial scale of Baltimore’s bike share. Finally, placement of stations must be strategic and data-driven. Station-placement near well-used transit stops, densely populated areas, and employment centers will be vital to attract and maintain members.

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?

EE: The first and most important step is to implement the audit recommendations. Performance goals must be chosen strategically and data must be collected and preserved to ensure that we are meeting those goals. The audit recommendations should be only the first step, however, in re-making DOT into an accountable, efficient, customer-service based agency. Expanding Baltimore’s open data portal and making it more accessible is one critical step on that path. Giving citizens greater access to information, such as through the creation of a pothole tracking map, would enhance transparency and increase public involvement in DOT’s work. One model that should be emulated in Baltimore is Washington DC’s Potholepalooza, a month-long campaign in which the DDOT dedicates itself to fixing potholes in 48 hours, rather than 72. DDOT encourages citizens to report as many potholes as possible via twitter or through 311, and to track how long it takes for them to be filled. DC has filled over 21,000 potholes since the first Potholepalooza in 2009. Such a collaborative effort between the agency and residents builds trust, opens lines of communication, and encourages efficiency within DOT.

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?

EE: As mentioned above, the creation of a Vision Zero pedestrian safety plan and a pedestrian master plan, in addition to the implementation of the bike-master plan, will ensure that we design and build our streets with an emphasis on safety. Safer streets and infrastructure like protected bike lanes has been shown to significantly increase the number of bikers in the City. My goal is to see bike commuting levels in Baltimore rise to the 4-5% seen in other major cities.

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?

EE: In a City where approximately 30% of families do not have access to a car, an effective and efficient public transit system is essential to connect citizens to jobs, healthcare, and education. Effective advocacy in Annapolis and Washington DC is a vital component of creating this system. The large scale investment we need in light and heavy rail requires State and Federal funding, and as Mayor I would unify community leaders, business leaders, and state and local representatives to form an effective coalition that will advocate for Baltimore. I will also support efforts by our State representatives to pass legislation, such as the creation of an MTA oversight board, which provides greater oversight over State transportation decisions. The success of the Circulator and Water Taxi systems show, however, that effective change is possible at the local level. Making the City more walkable and implementing the bike master plan will be a priority in my administration. In addition, supporting changes to the zoning code such as the creation of TOD zoning, optional parking in lieu fees, and neighborhood commercial zoning will encourage development that is oriented towards transit and walking.

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?

EE: Early, effective outreach and education is a vital aspect of any major transit project. At present, DOT too often fails to effectively reach and educate those it serves prior to major projects. A failure to oversee construction contracts effectively has also lead to a fracturing of public trust and a breakdown of communication. As Mayor, I will expand DOT’s outreach efforts, including building a more robust social media presence, and develop procedures for contract oversight to ensure that construction projects are completed on-time.

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

EE: I have released two plans centered around cutting crime and growing jobs. I will be releasing my comprehensive transportation blueprint in the coming days! It and my other plans can be found at embryforbaltimore.org.