Mass transit scapegoating spreads to Baltimore County

Perhaps we should be thankful that Baltimore County officials aren’t calling for an end to mass transit in White Marsh altogether amid fears of youth crime. Responding to the recent melee at the White Marsh Mall by asking for more buses around closing time is downright enlightened compared to the recent calls by local leaders in Anne Arundel County to shut down or curtail service at several stations in response to resident complaints (not backed up in police statistics) of light rail-related crime. But Baltimore County Council members Cathy Bevins and David Marks still get it wrong by asking for an end to bus service after 11 p.m. Buses aren’t conduits for outsiders (read: Baltimore City residents) bent on mayhem. They’re a crucial means for those who can’t afford or don’t want cars to live their lives, and even in the suburbs, they’re vital.

Last weekend, nine people, most of them juveniles, were arrested after a fight that started in a bathroom in the mall’s food court turned into a large disturbance in the parking lot. Police struggled to disperse hundreds of young people, though many of them were believed to be innocent bystanders. Ms. Bevins and Mr. Marks met with mall officials afterward and pressed them to adopt a policy like that at Towson Town Center (which is owned by the same parent company) that requires minors to be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian on weekend evenings. That’s a reasonable approach, so long as it is enforced equitably, but it’s not clear that it would make much difference. Crime statistics reported by The Sun’s Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs showed little change in the number of calls for service at the Towson mall after it instituted its youth escort policy, though youths do make up a larger percentage of those arrested at White Marsh than they do at Towson or at the Avenue, which also restricts unaccompanied youth in the evenings.

But Ms. Bevins and Mr. Marks are off base to believe cutting off late buses will solve the problem, or that it won’t create new ones. The mall closes at 9 p.m., so having more buses to pick up patrons then, as the council members have requested, is altogether sensible. But the incident that sparked this whole discussion didn’t happen after mall hours. The fact that a bus picks up across the street as late as 1:30 a.m. was irrelevant. And Ms. Bevins is wrong to assert that there’s no need for the later buses since most stores and restaurants close by 9 or 10. In fact, plenty of restaurants on The Avenue (which is where the late-night buses stop) are open well past then, with some staying open until midnight, 1 a.m. and even 2 a.m. in one case. The people who work there — who may live anywhere in the city, county or beyond — need a way to get home.

Much as the leaders of this effort and those in northern Anne Arundel County may insist otherwise, the attempt to reduce or eliminate mass transit service in the suburbs carries an unmistakable air of prejudice. It cannot be divorced from Baltimore’s century-old legacy of development and transportation planning that has served to cut poor, black residents in the city off from the opportunities available in more affluent, whiter communities. If the White Marsh Mall or any other has an issue with public safety, that’s a problem to be solved with security and law enforcement, not by pretending we can wall our communities off from each other.

County Executive Don Moher is right to call the council members’ request “outrageous.” We hope the Mass Transit Administration will heed his opposition and reject this idea.

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