The Baltimore Sun

Making mass transit an attractive option

Several paragraphs into Michael Dresser's column "Gas pain might be changing our ways" (April 7), we read: "For many Marylanders, using mass transit is equated with slipping from the ranks of the middle class."

If this assertion is true, one must ask what makes Marylanders different from other mass transit riders.

Do the millions of mass transit riders in Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Denver, Portland, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and in and around Washington worry about slipping from the ranks of the middle class?

That's not likely - judging from their continued and massive use of mass transit systems, some of which are more than 100 years old.

Indeed, riders in Montgomery and Prince George's counties seem quite comfortable with the Washington Metro.

So why do some people in the Baltimore region feel so negatively about mass transit?

Could this be a result of unexamined fears of people of a different class or race or of "the big bad city"?

Or are they shunning mass transit because personal security is not better assured, the routes are not well thought-out, the vehicles do not come frequently enough, the lines are not interconnected and vast areas of our metropolitan region remain totally unserved by public transportation?

Mass transit systems in other cities have served and continue to serve all manner of racially, religiously, ethnically and economically diverse people.

Those mass transit systems have had issues about personal safety, and dealt with them.

Other mass transit systems have been planned and improved with an eye toward achieving intermodal connections and efficiency.

But as long as we actual and potential transit users here in Central Maryland refuse to recognize the economic, social and environmental promise and benefits of well-planned and well-operated mass transit systems, we will continue to undervalue the transit systems we have and the ones we could have in the future.

Art Cohen


The writer is a member of b'more mobile, an Internet-based coalition that promotes better public transportation in the Baltimore region.

Reliance on cars is very destructive

Michael Dresser's remark that "using mass transit is equated with slipping from the ranks of the middle class" reveals the core of a host of very serious problems ("Gas pain might be changing our ways," April 7).

Many present-day troubles, from environmental degradation to urban sprawl to urban decay to war, can be traced to this kind of attitude.

We need to collectively realize that a system that encourages all of us to drive our own private vehicles is unsustainable and severely destructive.

Cars have given us enormous freedom. But they come with an enormous cost that many of us do not see.

High gas prices barely scratch the surface of the real costs involved, and it's a shame gas prices are the only thing that seems to motivate people to change their behavior.

David Kantor


Forcing democracy on Iraq a bad dream

As a nation, Iraq is an artificial confederation of tribes run by powerful men ("Petraeus supports halt to Iraq pullout," April 9).

The only way it was held together in the first place was by a bigger bully - such as Saddam Hussein - out-bullying the ethnic rivals.

The idea of instilling some form of democracy in this country is a pipe dream.

Our troops should not be there, period.

It is a lose-lose situation and a travesty that they continue to die in this Bush-Cheney folly.

Nancy Spies


State needs official to protect business

There's too much self-congratulation going around about the repeal of the tax on computer services ("Democrats see victory as session concludes," April 8).

Perhaps repeal of this thoughtless tax will stem the outflow of these services to other states. But the fact that it passed in the first place highlights an alarming lack of business acumen among Maryland's political leadership.

Any out-of-state business looking at Maryland as a state to which it might relocate must be asking: What's next in this anti-business state?

Maryland needs a business ombudsman - not just another bureaucrat who is a lifelong politician but a person who has really conducted business.

And the position needs to be elevated to a level of influence.

This person needs to walk behind the politicians with an air horn and sound it loudly each time they propose something as stupid as this anti-business computer services tax.

Jim Astrachan


Years in prison more than a slap on wrist

An eight-year prison sentence is hardly a "slap on the wrist" ("Young killers get a slap on wrist," letters, April 5).

Prison is not a cushy resort where you get free food and spend your time reading and writing.

It's a place full of mean, threatening people who can make your life hell, and there's little you can do to escape fellow inmates who curse, shout, tease and threaten - or worse.

It's a place where someone else is in control of your every move - all day, every day - and you are never treated with dignity and respect.

You never get to drive a car or go shopping or visit friends. You wait and hope that someone will come and visit you.

You're deprived of the intimate companionship of the opposite sex.

The food may be free, but there isn't much of it, and it is hardly gourmet fare.

Health care is minimal. If you're lucky, you can get a job and make $1 a day.

If you're really lucky, you may get into a rehabilitation program.

Only with really exceptional luck and determination will you somehow survive all the other negative influences of the prison environment and come out rehabilitated.

Then you need more luck and determination to get a job and stay out of trouble and not land right back in prison again.

It may be true that a teenage killer should get more than eight years in prison.

But even a year in prison is a dreary prospect for anyone to have to face.

Elizabeth Fixsen


The writer works with a prison ministry at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women at Jessup.

Change state's laws on special elections

Dan Rodricks suggests that Rep. Albert R. Wynn pay for half the cost of the special election to replace him ("Wynn can go lobby - for $500,000," April 10)

There are two obvious issues here.

Why does Maryland have a primary so many months before the general election?

That is dysfunctional; the primary should be shortly before the general election.

Second, why can't the governor just appoint a replacement when the term of office is so short?

He would certainly appoint the Democratic nominee, and it won't cost a cent.

The problem is with the state law, not the individual involved.

So let's change the law.

Leonard Oberstein


BMA shows scorn for local artist

As the saying goes, "An expert is someone from out of town."

This must have been what was in the minds of the curators of the Baltimore Museum of Art when they assembled the "Looking Through the Lens" exhibit and omitted the work of photographer A. Aubrey Bodine ("In Dad's Honor," April 6).

It seems that art, music and literature critics feel obliged to put down everything local while extolling mediocre talent from elsewhere.

But Mr. Bodine's photographs are as good as any of those in the BMA's current exhibition, and better than most.

Tony Buechner


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