Baltimore County council members urge MTA to reduce bus service to White Marsh Mall area after fight

Two Baltimore County Council members, concerned about “large crowds of youth” at the White Marsh Mall on weekend nights, urged the Maryland Transit Administration on Wednesday to stop bus service in the area after 11 p.m.

The request from Cathy Bevins and David Marks followed a fight at the White Marsh Mall on Saturday night that led to the arrest of seven juveniles and two 19-year-olds, one of whom is accused of swinging at a security guard.

Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, and Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, met with police and mall officials on Monday and called on the mall to institute a parental supervision policy on weekend evenings similar to one enforced by the Towson Town Center.

In a letter to MTA Administrator Kevin B. Quinn Jr., the council members wrote that “large crowds of youth in the evening on weekends” have “become a safety concern.”

“The youth have been disruptive, hard to control and they pose a safety risk to themselves crossing the road,” Bevins and Marks wrote.

They asked Quinn for more buses to pick people up in the mall circle and behind The Avenue in the evening on Fridays and Saturdays, but not to keep running that service until 1:30 a.m. at a stop near The Avenue.

A spokesman for the MTA and Maryland Department of Transportation said the agency is reviewing the council members’ request.

“MDOT MTA values our partnership with the communities we serve and, as with all requests for adjustments to service, we will gather and review feedback from stakeholders,” spokesman Paul Shepard said in a statement.

Officer Jennifer Peach, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Police Department, said the problem stems from young people leaving White Marsh Mall when it closes at 9 and then crossing Honeygo Boulevard to hang out around The Avenue at White Marsh into the early morning.

Bus service from White Marsh Mall ends around 9:30 p.m., Peach said, but service from the stop near The Avenue runs until 1:30 a.m.

The Avenue requires people under 17 to have a parent or guardian who is at least 21 with them after 9 p.m., and often urges young White Marsh Mall patrons to leave its premises after that hour.

Towson Town Center requires patrons under 18 to have a parent or a supervising adult who is at least 21 with them after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Federal Realty, which owns the The Avenue, and GGP, which owns the White Marsh Mall and Towson Town Center, did not return emails seeking comment.

Samuel Jordan, president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, said using the fight at the mall to reduce service is one of “the same old tropes that we saw for the planning period of the Red Line,” the light rail project that was proposed to connect East and West Baltimore.

“All public transit in this region is being stigmatized as the mode of choice for travel by black people, poor people [and] the transit-dependent,” he said. “This is just the example of the kind of confusion, chaos and tension that arises wherever we have public transportation.”

He said politicians were manipulating residents’ fear, and choosing not to “bother with the facts” or benefits of mass transit.

Jordan compared the reduction of transit options to the history of segregation and redlining in Baltimore.

“Where there’s race-coded, dog-whistle claims like this, the objective is to contain black people in Baltimore and suppress opportunities for employment, development and travel outside of Baltimore,” he said. “They’re asking MTA to help develop a wall around Baltimore.”

Glenn Smith, vice president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, said transit-dependent people should not be inconvenienced because of the fight.

“That would be very wrong to limit that service just because of a fight,” he said. “What about those people who work in those areas? Are they going to suffer if they work in the county and live in the city?”

Marks and Bevins defended their request.

“The Maryland Transit Administration reaches out to many communities, and I hope their concerns are taken into account,” Marks said. “My primary concern right now is public safety.”

Bevins said there was no need for the buses to run into the early morning. If the stores and restaurants close around 9 or 10, she said, “there would be no reason to be hanging in between the mall and The Avenue.”

"I don’t want it to be a race issue," she said. "The mall and [The] Avenue has a very diverse workforce and also diverse patrons of both properties and that’s what I love about my district.”

Baltimore County Police Department data shows that calls for service at Towson Town Center declined only slightly after it began its parental supervision policy.

There were 308 calls for service after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays between October 2015 and September 2016. The parental supervision policy was implemented on Sept. 16, 2016. There were 299 from October 2016 to September 2017.

The data also shows that juveniles have made up a higher percentage of arrests in the past year at White Marsh Mall, where there is no parental supervision policy, than at The Avenue or Towson Town Center.

For the year ended June 30, juveniles made up exactly half of the arrests at White Marsh Mall, but only 30 percent of the arrests at Towson Town Center and a quarter of the arrests at The Avenue.

White Marsh Mall had 166 total arrests, more than the other two locations combined.

Peach said the Police Department members and legislators at the meeting agreed on the proposal, but that the department’s leadership has not been consulted and does not have a position on the matter.

The council members wrote that “police have been in the difficult circumstance of having to manage large groups of youth that need to leave the area, but cannot, due to a lack of buses.”

Marks said in an interview that the goal of the request is to make sure employees can still get to the mall, “but make sure that anyone who’s patronizing the mall is out of there at a reasonable time.”

“We think this is a good compromise,” Marks said.

Bevins’ district includes the mall itself, and Marks’ district includes much of the surrounding area.

The letter follows similar concerns over the Baltimore Light Rail in Anne Arundel County. Despite data showing only a handful of arrests, the county executive and both candidates for the District 32 state Senate seat have warned of crime, and said they want less service in the county.

nbogelburroughs@baltsun.com

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UPDATES:

4:30 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect changes in a Baltimore County Police Department spokeswoman's description of the department's position.

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