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June 1, 2009

Mayor Dixon talks transportation

I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor Sheila Dixon to talk about transportation issues, It's a topic very close to the heart of the mayor, an avid  bicyclist who uses her rides around the city to get an up-close look at Baltimore infrastructure.

Some topics:

Speed cameras: Dixon expressed relief that a petition drive aimed at invalidating a law passed  by the General Assembly expandig the use of speed cameras failed. She said the city has a serious problem with speeding and not enough officers to enforce traffic laws.

Roundabouts: The mayor said she, too, finds the Towson rounabout confusing, even though her administration is looking at creating six of them to replace busy interchanges. She said she got a good look at the possible benefits of such traffic circles during a trip to Chicago. Dixon said she especially likes the opportunity to create green space in the  center  of the roundabouts.

Red Line: Dixon restated her backing for Red Line Alternative 4C -- a light rail system running in a tunnel under Cooks Lane and through downtown and Fells Point  but on the surface in Canton and Edmondson Village. But she said she understands the concerns of residents of the affected neighborhoods. She said the existing north-south light rail system down Howard Street -- built with the state-of-the-art technology of the early 1990s -- has colored people's opinions about the Red Line.

"People look at it like it's the light rail and it's not not," she  said. Dixon said  newer light rail technology is much quieter and will blend in better with the communities it serves. "People can't vision it the way we plan it to be."

The City that Paves: Despite severe recession-related budget cuts, the mayor said the city is still on track to repave 220 lane-miles this year. 

Stimulus money: Dixon said it's out on the street right now, paying for the resurfacing of Northern Parkway and Orleans Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:52 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bicycles, For policy wonks only, Light rail, On the roads, Red Line
        

Comments

I thought you'd be interested to know that the Mayor's initiative to improve the sidewalks in Baltimore, "Sidewalk Sam", is at the direct expense of owners who live adjacent to those sidewalks. I, along with my neighbors, have received "violation" notices that our sidewalks are cracked and sunken and that we must pay to have them repaired at $6.50-7.50 a sq foot. For many of my neighbors this means a surprise bill for $500+. It seems to me this is political sabotage for Ms Dixon - surprising her voters with expensive bills and labeling them as violators. I can personally bear witness to the fact that my sidewalk is barely damaged and that this is simply an excuse to shift the budget for this campaign onto the voters who put her in office. What is she thinking??

Marc -- Thanks for your note. Under the City Code, property owners are responsible for sidewalks adjacent to their property. That's pretty common around the country. If you felt aggrieved by your violation notice, you could have appealed. It's a very simple process. In most cases, the bill can be paid over five years (interest free, no less) along with your property taxes. You could have also done the work yourself, but our experience is that individual sidewalk repairs can cost five or six times more than the cost of the City doing the work. (We buy cement thousands of cubic yards at a time!)

Yes, "Sidewalk Sam" has stepped up enforcement of sidewalk repair violations -- although virtually all sidewalk repair requests are called in by citizens, not proactively sought out by City government.

Moreover, where there is damage from tree roots, water main breaks, etc., the City bears the cost, not the individual property owner. In fact, Mayor Dixon has doubled funding over the past two years for the City's share of sidewalk repairs.


So yes, we're all doing our part to make Baltimore's streets and sidewalks a little more walkable,

COMMENT: The writer of this posting is a deputy director in the city Department of Transportation.


Regarding Mayor Dixon’s comments of the Red Line:

She said the existing north-south light rail system down Howard Street -- built with the state-of-the-art technology of the early 1990s -- has colored people's opinions about the Red Line.
MY RESPONSE: This isn’t about technology, it’s about mode of operation: where it’s routed, at what elevation, station spacing and location, platform length, frequency, etc. The DC Metro was ‘state of the art’ in the 1970s, it’s vastly better than the Central Light Rail from 1992. This is not about technology.

"People look at it like it's the light rail and it's not not,"
MY RESPONSE: No, it’s not the Central Light Rail. We would be adding a third system (excluding MARC) to our regional rail with a different, exclusive technology not compatible with either the existing CLR or the Metro. The systems could never interact, share vehicles, or be connected with one another. Three different systems is very uncommon in era of federal funding (since the 1960s). Do we want to have a Frankenstein system if we can avoid it?

Dixon said newer light rail technology is much quieter and will blend in better with the communities it serves.
MY RESPONSE: More sleight of hand. Quieter? The problem with the Central Light Rail, or some other LRT systems, isn’t that they’re not quiet. Who complains about the CLR because of the noise? I haven’t met these individuals. The problem with the CLR on Howard St is that it is on Howard St!
The same goes for the notion of smaller cars often mentioned. How is smaller, better? Wider is better. A wide rail car is more comfortable and less cumbersome. It will also not overload too easily. The proposed Red Line LRT will be narrow like a bus. A slightly “smaller profile” vehicle isn’t going to make it blend into the community that much better. The problem is that it would be on the street making congestion worse, putting truck traffic closer to homes, and cutoff one side of the neighborhood from another by closing off streets and making cross traffic, both pedestrian and auto, have to wait longer and travel farther to get to the other side.

"People can't vision it the way we plan it to be."
MY RESPONSE: Wanna bet people can’t? We’ve seen the diagrams, schematics, cross-sections, and traffic impacts. We can envision this and it is not good. A little bit of landscaping and new streetscaping the neighborhoods should get anyway is a metaphorical garnish on a 7-11 chili dog.

Here’s an idea: How about the state and the region save its pennies, build a true Metro over a possibly longer timeframe, and then give Edmondson Ave a new streetscape like is being done for N. Charles St. now? TPTB too often are concerned about getting everything done soon just to get the federal dollars rolling faster. Citizens want to see a big project done right. We’ve got nothing to “lose” if it takes a little longer. We’d much rather wait and enthusiastically support the superior project.

The ‘Fear of Loss’ argument that many political stakeholders have espoused just doesn’t fly.

Nate Payer
TRAC
The views expressed here are my own.

Mr. Jamie Kendrick,

Thanks for responding to my comment! I understand that's the law, and I'm aware of the fact that the City bears the cost for tree roots, water mains, etc. What's difficult to understand is why the homeowner's need to pay for this to begin with. It's the law, yes, but it doesn't make financial sense. The city hires an inspector to inspect each property's piece of sidewalk. They then hire people to process those inspections, mail them out to the homeowners, handle the claims and appeals of the homeowners, and collect the money from the homeowners. And don't forget, there are supervisors being paid to oversee all of this. Then, after the city has spent all that money, the homeowners pay the city 100's of dollars to repair the piece of sidewalk.

And how did those sidewalks get damaged to begin with? Public foot traffic and city plows and salt trucks. The homeowner is rarely the cause of that damage.

Wouldn't it make more sense to just raise everyone's taxes $20 a year and have the city just replace the sidewalks every 20 years? They wouldn't have to spend all that money dealing with people like me who don't want to be surprised with a $500 violation! It's time to change this law.

Mr. Jamie Kendrick,

Thanks for responding to my comment! I understand that's the law, and I'm aware of the fact that the City bears the cost for tree roots, water mains, etc. What's difficult to understand is why the homeowner's need to pay for this to begin with. It's the law, yes, but it doesn't make financial sense. The city hires an inspector to inspect each property's piece of sidewalk. They then hire people to process those inspections, mail them out to the homeowners, handle the claims and appeals of the homeowners, and collect the money from the homeowners. And don't forget, there are supervisors being paid to oversee all of this. Then, after the city has spent all that money, the homeowners pay the city 100's of dollars to repair the piece of sidewalk.

And how did those sidewalks get damaged to begin with? Public foot traffic and city plows and salt trucks. The homeowner is rarely the cause of that damage.

Wouldn't it make more sense to just raise everyone's taxes $20 a year and have the city just replace the sidewalks every 20 years? They wouldn't have to spend all that money dealing with people like me who don't want to be surprised with a $500 violation! Also - please consider the homeowner with a corner house who has 4x's as much sidewalk and more traffic - they're surprised with a $1500 violation! It's all a waste of city money and an aggravation to its citizens. Also - please consider the homeowner with a corner house who has 4x's as much sidewalk and more traffic - they're surprised with a $1500 violation! It's all a waste of city money and an aggravation to its citizens.It's time to change this law.

A serious problem with speeding? Not once did I see any statistics regarding how MD was any worse than any other state with regard to this so-called "problem." http://PhotoRadarScam.com

Come on PhotoRadarScam! I understand that you don't want speeding cameras, but to argue that there isn't a problem with traffic violations in Balto City shows that you either never drive or set foot in the city or that you deserve no credibility in your cause. BCPD spends almost zero time with traffic enforcement. Other than the occasional time that you might see a radar unit on I 83 some place, the only time violations are written is when a traffic accident has occurred and someone is at fault. I am generally opposed to speeding cameras myself, but if BCPD is not going to enforce traffic laws, I'm glad that someone will because driving in Baltimore can be the Wild Wild West with no regard for the law or public safety.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.
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