Baltimore’s New Complete Streets Policy Aims to Promote Racial Equity

Photo:  Side A Photography
Photo: Side A Photography

Can street design actually promote racial equality? Baltimore is going to find out.

The city’s newly passed Complete Streets Ordinance seeks to make streets are safer for all users with design elements such as bike lanes, intersection bulb-outs, narrower lanes — but a stated goal is to ensure that the benefits are greatly expanded in long-forgotten neighborhoods.

“[Road project] money is predominately spent in the wealthier whiter neighborhoods,” said Jed Weeks, policy director for Bikemore, Baltimore’s bike advocacy organization. “Historically we know we deliberately disinvested in red-lined neighborhoods.”

Poorer neighborhoods are far more likely to have households without cars. So the city’s past failure to invest in road safety in such neighborhoods means a higher likelihood of crashes in the very areas where there are more pedestrians. Sure enough, state data show that Baltimore, which has just 10.3 percent of Maryland’s population, is home to 30 percent of all statewide pedestrian crashes.

“In every historically red-lined, majority African-American community in east and west Baltimore City, the number of households with no vehicle access is greater than 50 percent,” said Council Member Ryan Dorsey in an accompanying “justification” document. Those neighborhoods, he added, disproportionately bear the impacts of streets oriented for drivers, such as safety risks and air pollution.

The new policy calls for the planning process itself to be more equitable, though specific details of how the process will be carried out weren’t specified in the legislation. But an accompanying guide recommended hiring community groups to lead the Department of Transportation planning process, making sure all meetings are at ADA-accessible locations, and ensuring sufficient translation services. The document also recommended using the “Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing,” which seek to make sure marginalized voices are heard.

The Complete Streets policy will require the city to evaluate the equity impacts of how projects are prioritized through a formal process called an equity gap analysis.

More generally, the policy instructs the city to use the respected National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, plus a handful of other progressive street design manuals to ensure that all streets in the city are safer.


2 thoughts on Baltimore’s New Complete Streets Policy Aims to Promote Racial Equity

  1. Typical political games from the bike addicts. Poor people have been poor for a long time and we’ve had bicycles for a long time. If bicycles were a cure for the poor neighborhoods, the poor would have discovered them a long time ago. (As they did in China.) But they don’t ride the bikes for the same reasons as the rich neighborhoods: it’s too cold for four to five months a year; it’s too hot for three (unless there’s a shower at the other end); it’s too dark for half of the days (on average); it’s too wet for 50-70 days a year; it’s too icy/snowy for 20-40 days. Add them all up and there might be 50-70 commutable days a year. You can’t rely upon your bike to get where you’re going.

    The poor have it harder than the rich because they generally live further from work and other destinations. You can be sure that if a neighborhood lies within biking distance of good jobs, the hipsters will discover it and gentrify it. Many of the poor neighborhoods may be 40-80 minutes of biking away from the downtown. If the poor are working two-three jobs, they don’t have time to poke along at biking pace just because the Hipster Ten Commandments insists upon it.

    There’s a reason why so many bikers in Baltimore are recreational rich people wearing expensive stretchy outfits. It just doesn’t make sense to bike most of the time. It’s a hobby. People are smart.

    I wish the bike addicts would stop hiding behind the poor and be honest. They want the city to subsidize their hobby and they should just admit it.

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