Transportation is a hot button issue in Baltimore City these days. In fact, it's red hot. At a recent community meeting, residents unloaded on the Maryland Department of Transportation over a proposed plan to restrict parking on the south side of Aliceanna Street during rush hour.
Driving to work, I often notice two things: Everyone is driving alone, and everyone looks frustrated. Not even the eclectic sounds of WTMD can save us from our collective commuter discontent. In the evening, the daily parking woes of some areas serve only to drive an even deeper wedge between the millennials and the multi-generationals, who've been living in the city for decades and now must deal with the influx of younger folks and their cars crowding neighborhood streets. The truth is, if we really want to aspire to the "Greatest City in America" mission statement engraved in our park benches, we must work together to forge creative solutions to the problems every trying-to-grow city encounters. Our traffic situation (and the ripple effect of problems it causes) is ground zero in this pursuit.
One of the goals of the Red Line light rail transit line is to help ease our traffic woes; however, to sustain the growth trends that certain neighborhoods have experienced in the past decade, we need to implement effective and efficient methods for moving people around the city now.
Having read the "Southeast Baltimore Complete Streets Plan," I see an excellent vision of Baltimore that we can implement immediately, creating a more functional and accessible city, complete with modern mass transit, more biking options and a daily ride to work along the water.
Picture a software app that places all mass transit schedules, maps and tickets within the convenience of your phone. For the busy commuters, express Charm City Circulator routes between Canton and downtown (with one pick up in Fells Point) during rush hour could really make the difference. Charge us $1 if necessary; I know I'd pay it. The fee gives way to happy commuters who know where they are heading and, most importantly, what time they will arrive. With the guesswork removed, all that's left is to enjoy the ride.
The addition of stop information with restaurants, shopping and places of interest will help the local economy thrive as the city takes an active role in encouraging commuters and tourists to explore, eat and shop. Updated transit facilities with arrival kiosks, weather-protectant covers and attractive street furniture/public art will propel Baltimore into the ranks of world class transportation cities.
And while the coming Charm City BikeShare program, set to launch this summer, is a welcome addition, we would also be well served by better accommodating our cycling and pedestrian community with the inclusion of traditional bike lanes and cycle tracks, as well as more laws protecting cyclists. Additional lighting to create a sense of safety at night and eye-catching landscaping that promotes outdoor seating and socializing will attract more pedestrians to the mix of eateries that call Charm City home. A continuous walking path using signs and historical markers could link our diverse neighborhoods together. Like the BeltLine in Atlanta or the High Line in New York City, let's create a "Harbor Line" in Baltimore. I can picture it now, and it is splendid.
Here's one additional idea that can be truly transformative for our city. In 2010, city officials acknowledged that the free Harbor Connector, the boat equivalent of the circulator, is the city's best-kept secret. Well, the time has come to make this tourist attraction a viable form of daily transportation for locals.
The connector can and should be providing commuters in Canton, Fells Point and Federal Hill a ride to work on express water taxis that drop off right in the heart of downtown. Expanded commuter routes will not only cut down on traffic and pollution, but the trip takes 10 minutes, comes with a stunning view of the city and is infinitely more pleasurable than sitting in traffic and wrestling for a parking spot. Upgrades to keep passengers warm and dry in the winter months, along with technology integration for trip planning, can make the connector the preferred commuter route.
Keep in mind that these ideas are not intended to replace the Red Line, nor do they have to be mutually exclusive. But while the funding and details of such a massive undertaking continue to be caught up in long-term budget wrangling in Annapolis, let's get ourselves moving forward, now. All aboard?
Mark Edelson is a lawyer and Baltimore resident. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.