Baltimore needs more bike lanes, fewer cars

I read with wonder the commentary, “Stop caving in to Baltimore’s bike lobby” (Sept. 9) by Rush Loving Jr. Has he ever set foot in Baltimore? Does he know that the city was originally designed for human-powered transportation? Is he aware that for 150 years before the automobile became the dominant form of transportation, people roamed the city on foot, on horseback, bicycle and eventually, trolley cars? Does he know that in the 1940s and 1950s, the streets were retrofit to accommodate autos and the layouts changed so that there was ample space for automobiles and the pedestrians and bicycles were given the leftovers? Who advocated this change?

It was the automobile and petrochemical lobbies who advocated for fuel tax revenues be used to build freeways for automobiles so folks could drive into and out of the city as quickly as possible.

Now, Mr. Loving asserts that “bicycles are dangerous.” Given that over 35,000 people a year are killed in car crashes (compared to 850 bicyclists in 2016), it is pretty well known that the auto fatality rate is the highest among all modes of transportation. Moreover, per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the percentage of pedestrian fatalities has increased, reaching 15 percent of total motor vehicle fatalities in 2015. Bicyclist fatalities have represented 2 percent of total motor vehicle fatalities every year from 1980 to 2015.

And what are the major causes of the pedestrian and bicycle fatalities? Collisions with automobiles. Based upon facts, one could argue that each automobile removed from the road makes the roads — and pedestrian and bicyclists — safer by reducing the rate of “death by car.”

So why is Baltimore (and other cities like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., New York, Boston, Seattle, etc.) working to improve its barely adequate pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure? It is because the people want streets designed for moving people, which is what they built for originally. The average width of a Baltimore row house is 20 feet while a car takes 22 feet to park, and no one built row houses thinking there would be three cars parked out front. In a city with five universities, a large percentage of low-income and transit-dependent people and a dense urban environment, it is more cost-effective to move people by bicycle and walking then leave acres of valuable real estate sitting under parked cars. That is a total waste.

Finally, regarding the Transportation Alternatives Program, the $850 million (divided up among the states and every city in the land) is a very small share of the approximately $40 billion spent annually on the highway network. The source of the funding is primarily from user fees (the 18.4 cents per gallon gasoline tax) and does not count against the deficit. Somebody’s lobby is winning that battle, and it clearly isn’t the bike lobby.

Dwayne Weeks, Towson

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