Relying on public transit in Baltimore makes me feel like Don Quixote, Ignatius Reilly, and "Ratso” Rizzo all rolled into one. As a rare “choice” rider in this city—someone who could afford a car (albeit a crappy one) but chooses to walk and ride instead—I’m accustomed to ruling out activities in whole chunks of the city. I go out most nights, but this means allocating extra time in each trip for buses that never come, trains that creep at half the speed they could, and long walks to destinations that should have service but don’t.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Literally 100 years ago, Baltimore had one of the best streetcar systems in the world, covering more area and running more frequently than today’s nightmarish bus system. In fact, many neighborhoods of Baltimore were literally developed around streetcar service, built with little walkable commerce since residents could rely on public transit to get them anywhere they needed to go.
We’ve all likely heard about streetcars before, but pause for a minute to let this sink in: 100 years ago a pedestrian in Baltimore could get to more places, and make their trips faster and easier, than we can in 2013. What should’ve been a source of enduring health and pride for the city was demolished after WW2 in the name of “progress,” a gross capitulation to car culture, the suburbs, and corporate power that resulted in inconvenience to me, but real horrors for much of the city. The death of the streetcar led to the creation and exacerbation of food deserts, to name one dire consequence, not to mention a working-class populace that must choose between either building their daily life around an unreliable transit system, or becoming shackled to the barely sustainable expenses of car payments, insurance, gas, and repairs.
Baltimore is bouncing back from hard times. In so many quality of life measures that matter to me, things are better than they were when I moved here in 1996. Despite a still-raging and horribly destructive drug war, most of our city is safer than it was then. Life is also potentially more enjoyable: we have more cafes, more clubs, more movie screens, more art galleries, more bike lanes, and a vibrant music scene that’s become internationally known.
Public transit lags behind. Why? ...