On September 24th, The Baltimore Sun published an article titled Downtown road work, detours galore driving commuters crazy. The article examined how necessary infrastructure and road projects were causing gridlock on Baltimore’s downtown streets. While compounding projects can certainly increase congestion, what the article failed to point out is that two projects — the bus only lanes on Pratt and Lombard and the Maryland Avenue Cycletrack — are projects that are looking to relieve traffic congestion by prioritizing other modes of travel. By simply lumping these projects together rather than discussing their intended purpose, we set a low bar for discourse around how to address transportation issues in the city.
Traffic isn’t something that happens to you, it is something we all play a role in creating. And while uncoordinated construction projects can lead to problematic congestion — we shouldn’t use congestion as the sole metric to evaluate the performance of transportation. Congestion isn’t always bad. In fact, in many cities congestion means lots of jobs and lots of people traveling to them. Bad traffic is often a sign of good growth. When traffic congestion does reach a threshold that begins to impede business, research tells us that the solution is to invest in alternative transportation such as public transit and bike infrastructure. We know that commuting time is the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. In a city where 33% of residents do not have access to a vehicle, our greatest threat to economic growth is not traffic congestion, but access to reliable transportation.
Not everyone can choose to ride a bike to work. But everyone can choose to support projects that increase biking and transit ridership by making these modes of travel safe, reliable and convenient. Right now, there are thousands of people in Baltimore that would like to try biking to work and won’t because it just feels too unsafe. Right now there are thousands of people already biking to work everyday that deserve to arrive there safely. And unlike the Abell resident from the article who lives a mere two miles from her workplace and a short walk from the Circulator or any number of southbound buses, many lack the ability to choose to travel to work any other way. The number one way to increase the safety of people on bikes is to increase ridership. The number one way to increase ridership is to create a dedicated, easy to understand network of protected infrastructure. The best way to reduce traffic congestion is to give people real options to get out of their cars.
With a new Mayor taking office this fall, we have an opportunity to appoint a Director of the Department of Transportation that understands that transportation includes all modes of travel, not just people who drive cars. That economic growth happens when we connect more people to opportunity by investing in affordable, high quality, reliable transportation options. When we make decisions that prioritize the comfort and speed of commuters who travel by car over residents that would prefer to walk, bike, or take transit we erode the vibrancy of city life. We turn charming neighborhood streets into high speed thoroughfares. We actively limit choice in transportation rather than follow the lead of cities large and small throughout the United States that are working to expand it.
This fall Bikemore is launching a campaign to send a message to the next administration about what priorities the next Director of DOT should champion. As residents who believe that our economic prosperity, health and quality of life are directly related to the types of transportation investments we make, it’s imperative that we change the conversation from moving just cars to moving more people. You can follow the campaign using the hashtag #DirectDOT, and share your vision for transportation in Baltimore City.