Over the past twenty years, the time that commuters in our region spend in their cars has risen from 41 hours a year to 47 hours per year. As our commutes lengthen, our air quality declines. Baltimore County has received an “F” grade from the American Lung Association for ozone pollution, which is a significant contributor to childhood asthma and other lung and heart diseases. And with each additional hour spent in cars, we see more accidents on our increasingly congested roads, and must spend ever more tax dollars maintaining roadways and parking lots.
Effective public transportation would significantly free up space on our roads, help protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the animals with whom we share our world. It would save us money. In cities with metro systems, such as Washington, DC, people spend just 9 percent of their income on transportation, whereas in places without effective public transit, such as Lutherville, residents spend on average 19 percent of their income on transportation.
Unfortunately, Baltimore County has a woeful public transportation network that neither serves the needs of community members nor those of business owners. It takes over 90 minutes to get anywhere using it and ridership is low. There’s been no extensions to the light rail, for example, since 2005. After years of development, the Red Line project, which would have marked a significant investment in a new, non-car-centric transit system, was cancelled by Governor Hogan. As a result, today, fewer than one in three workers in Baltimore can make it to work in less than 20 minutes.
We can do better! Colleen has seen first-hand how an effective public transportation system can vitalize a community, creating job opportunities and increasing diversity while minimizing environmental impacts and increasing property values. She knows that solving the challenges of dirty, inefficient transportation is a region-wide, generational endeavor. But there’s a lot we can do right now to reduce car pollution and congestion.
What can we do?
Many of our existing neighborhoods lack pedestrian-friendly access to nearby commercial centers. New walking paths around neighborhoods and commercial centers such as the Hunt Valley Town Center would allow residents to walk or bike to shops and leave their cars at home, which would improve quality-of-life as well as form an important first step toward reducing congestion and improving air quality. Multiple studies around the world show that bike-able/walkable streets are safer for everyone. Across New York City, the introduction of protected bike lanes on streets reduced injuries among motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists by 20 percent. In the city of Arlington, VA, injuries on the streets declined by 50 percent between 2006 and 2014, with the implementation of a Complete Streets program.
Colleen will work to ensure that stakeholders follow the Complete Streets policy adopted by Baltimore County in December 2012. The policy, which takes effect in July 2018, directs County agencies and developers to consider all types of users and transportation modes when constructing buildings and improving roads, and include facilities that will allow people to walk, bicycle or use transit where appropriate.