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.
We all know about walk scores and their importance for livability. But what is a good walk score if you have to fear for your life while you walk and not because of someone with a gun but because of ruthless drivers?
With all the police out there, it should really be easy to keep a lid on ruthless behavior without extra expense.
My visits to many other US cities suggest, that Baltimore is a rather extreme case of uncivil traffic behavior. (per Allstate it is the #2 city in the US for "worst Drivers" after neighboring DC. . http://autos.yahoo.com/blogs/motoramic/10-u-cities-worst-drivers-tilt-towards-coasts-161143248.html.
This may be because of all the poverty and injustice, the lack of jobs and the neglect we can still see in many neighborhoods in spite of all recent upticks.
Even then, our uncivil streets
are certainly not a competitive advantage for our city nor do they make life any easier for any of the residents, rich or poor. Instead they are a very real impediment to quality of life.
One thing I am pretty sure of, take the speed cameras down as some lawmakers request, and things would get worse, not better.
- Klaus Philipsen, FAIA is an architect, urban designer and architectural writer specializing in urban architecture, adaptive reuse, preservation and transportation work. He is President ArchPlan Inc. past chairman of the Baltimore Design Center, member of the AIA National Regional and Urban Design Committee and president of NeighborSpace Baltimore County. He is a co-founder of the 1000 Friends of Maryland, a statewide smart growth group. Klaus has spoken to international, national and regional groups about design, smart growth, cities, sustainability and transportation. He writes an architectural column in a local paper and is a regular guest on a statewide radio talk show. For inquiries write to email@example.com