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Baltimore’s Public Transportation Problem

Asssistant Editor

Alejo Perez-Stable Husni '18

· Alejo Perez-Stable

Kevin Plank, Under Armour founder and CEO, recently made a pitch to the city of Baltimore requesting appropriation of public funds for his planned development in Port Covington. Despite the lofty ambition of the proposal and the potential economic benefits of developing a largely neglected area, one should consider whether or not this use of funds is as urgent as Plank claims. Plank instead could be helping the city with public transportation, a central issue that is more pressing, despite being less profitable. Without a good public transit system, Plank’s vision for the new “porch” of Baltimore would be inaccessible to the vast majority of the city’s inhabitants. Thus, the question of the Port Covington project is not one of validity, since rebuilding much of Baltimore’s rusty infrastructure and neglected lands is necessary. Rather, the question of Port Covington is one of utility. Unless you own a car or happen to live close to one of Baltimore’s strung out bus lines, getting to Port Covington is an issue.

While grand in scope, the Port Covington proposal turns a blind eye to one of Baltimore’s largest issues—an insufficient supply of public transportation. As Johns Hopkins students, we enjoy the University’s transit options such as the Blue Jay shuttle or the JHMI shuttle, and the Charm City Circulator Purple Route conveniently runs right past Homewood Campus. However, for most of the city, particularly its poorest neighborhoods in West Baltimore, public transit is not readily accessible.

Lack of mobility within the city contributes to the isolation and segregation of neighborhoods along racial and socioeconomic lines. Not only would a comprehensive public transportation plan create thousands of jobs, but it would also allow people to find employment in neighborhoods that are farther away. As cities across the United States have expanded public transit, Baltimore has lagged behind. The last city budget, which was passed in June, allocates only 7% to “Stronger Neighborhoods”, the section that includes public transportation and other public works. Meanwhile, one third of the budget is currently allocated towards “Safer Streets”. New York City, for comparison, which operates one of the most extensive subway systems in the world, allocates over $13 billion to public transit yearly, much of which is provided by state. While Baltimore does not need a program of such scope, having state funding to help alleviate most of the burden on the city would be welcome.

However, rather than addressing transportation concerns in the city of Baltimore, Governor Hogan has promised to consider building a bullet train from Baltimore to Washington, which could cost an estimated $10 billion. This news comes just over a year after the Governor declined to approve the Baltimore Red Line, which would have connected West Baltimore to downtown and neighborhoods further east. Instead, Hogan opted last year to approve the Purple Line, a shorter, smaller train in the Washington suburbs, as well as to significantly expand work on Maryland interstates and public roads. Again, improving roads is not a poor use of money by any stretch. But considering that Maryland a relatively low vehicle per capita ratio—30th in the union—one might expect Hogan to be less penny pinching with public transit in Baltimore.

A strong public transit system is a fundamental requirement for a healthy city. It allows for more fluidity between neighborhoods, helping combat neighborhood stagnation and allowing people to branch out for employment. Better transportation could also help to attract new residents to the city, as well as improving the lives of current Baltimoreans.

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