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Thursday, October 19 2017 @ 01:46 AM UTC

Lawlessness on Baltimore's Streets

Biking in BaltimoreBy Klaus Philipsen

Baltimore's Sun Paper did an investigation in Baltimore's many speed cameras and found much lacking, including proper measurements in some instances. The paper milked the story over weeks and, naturally, government haters are out in full force fretting about the freedom of motorists. Yet, I would locate the real problem on the opposite end of this spectrum: the general lawlessness on our city streets. If the paper is so interested in measurements, it should measure the top speeds people travel on urban streets where kids walk to school. The paper should videotape how many seconds after a light turns yellow cars still race through intersections, how impossible it is to cross on a marked crosswalk (try North Avenue between the two parts of the Coppin campus or in front of the BMA), or how many pedestrians downtown walk blindly across the street no matter what the signal says. Or how at any given downtown intersection cars block it when their lane is congested and create gridlock. Or what percentage of drivers have their hands on phones and texting devices right in front of your eyes, no matter that Maryland law prohibits it.

Essentially we have a culture of anything goes and the police never do a thing about it, presumably “because they have more important things to do”. Given over 200 murders a year (about half of what all of New York City has which is twelve times as large), this sounds plausible. And, of course, the police don’t yield to peds themselves, drive around with broken headlights, their phone on their ears or drive way above the speed limit without lights or sirens being activated.

My take on this is, and this is where it becomes almost an “urban design” topic, that the “broken windows theory” can also be applied to traffic lawlessness. If small things don’t get enforced, then big things start to slide as well. And yes, I know, we need to make sure that enforcement is fair and doesn’t just harass black teens or drag even more people into jail. But if nothing is done, it is difficult to convince people that Baltimore is oh so charming. If it isn’t even safe to drive and walk, let alone bike in the city because ruthless drivers will cut you off, knock you over, incessantly show you the finger and cuss you out, we can’t even begin to talk about violent crime.

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