Baltimore needs transit - and not just for jobs

In a recent commentary (“The next Maryland governor should invest where the jobs are: Baltimore,” Sept. 25), the importance of transportation was boiled down to the movement of labor to points of production, what Baltimore’s own Professor Lester Spence observes as a larger trend, “the neoliberal turn.” I reject the premise that transportation should be a scarce resource to be doled out based on employment trends on a regional level, and that the Baltimore-area should compete with Maryland’s D.C. suburbs. There are three reasons why the movement of people — public transit — should be viewed as a public good determined by the needs of people, not business.

It should go without saying that all people deserve access to affordable, high-quality public transportation that connects them to the social goods they need. By looking primarily at job creation data, the op-ed overlooked seniors, students, the disabled, the underemployed, long-term unemployed and those who have given up looking for work. These groups of people are often those who need public transportation the most, regardless of their ability to pay a bus fare or property taxes. This is not charitable “equity.” It is far more expensive to isolate these groups than it is to connect them to areas of prosperity and opportunity.

Second, the economic data used apparently omits job growth within the District of Columbia proper, calculating fuzzy math by measuring only the suburbs within Maryland to tilt our state’s economic outlook unduly in Baltimore’s favor. Rather than begrudge Montgomery and Prince George’s counties their transportation funding, Baltimoreans should look to how delegates and state senators from those places succeeded in bringing home the transportation bacon and ask why our own delegates and senators have failed to adequately do so. Improving regional MARC train service would be a great place for collaboration between the two regions, but Baltimore’s elected leaders must also do more here at home, including 21st century rapid bus solutions.

Finally, for Baltimore to succeed, we must understand that the urban core has been subsidizing the suburbs in surrounding counties for decades to the core’s detriment. Deciding transportation policy based on job creation data on a regional level obscures how for many years, people from prosperous suburbs have been using public infrastructure (such as roads, the light rail, Metro and MARC) to benefit from all Baltimore has to offer economically and culturally while leaving the city to struggle financially. This dynamic cannot be reversed via transportation policy alone. However, prioritizing adding new Metro stops in Southeast and East Baltimore to expand it east to Johns Hopkins Bayview, as well as several in West Baltimore via a western spur off the Lexington Market Station, instead of car-centric initiatives like widening the Beltway proven to fail at addressing congestion, would be a good start.

In short, to get Baltimore moving again, we must hang a u-turn on neoliberal planning that puts profit before people and instead prioritize the public good to implement sound transportation policy.

Owen S. Andrews, Baltimore

The writer is co-chair of the Baltimore City Green Party.

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