Baltimore is still an extremely segregated city. All of its problems – poverty, fatherlessness, gun violence, police brutality – come from the same patterns of segregation and discrimination from centuries ago. The eventual desegregation of Baltimore and all of its residents is inextricably linked to a high-functioning and reliable transit system. The system needs to be economically and environmentally friendly, and most importantly, user-friendly.
The current transit system is not user-friendly in the least. In 2014, when Larry Hogan was elected as Maryland’s Republican governor, there were two prospective transit lines in need of funding. The purple and red lines, which were both focused on service within the city, estimated costs standing at around $3.1 million each.
However, only the purple line ended up receiving funding. This raises the question of why the red line was cut. The red line was unique in that it was supposed to focus on service within the city, barely extending into the suburbs. It would have been an east-west light rail subway in Baltimore, serving black low-income neighborhoods.
The extension into the suburbs is where the controversy comes in. Hogan canceled the red line on the ground of cost. However, the lines were equal in cost. Therefore, Hogan clearly made his decision on some other grounds that would have been unflattering for him to admit to.
It is clear that racial discrimination fueled the cancellation of the red line and continuation of the purple line. In reaction to such discrimination, a Title VI civil rights lawsuit and a federal investigation under the Obama administration ensued. When pressed on the matter at a hearing, the state’s transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, could not give a clear answer on why the red line was not funded.
Maryland has a long history of using transportation policy to isolate black people in Baltimore. Until the city’s representatives want to end this cycle of discrimination, black people in the city will always have a hard time getting where they need to go for work and school.
Dr. Kate Drabinski is a lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and the Director of the Women Involved in Learning and Leadership (WILL) program at UMBC. She also gives an annual walking tour of Baltimore city and gives students an insight into its rich history. Dr. Drabinski says, “I think the biggest problem with transit in Baltimore city is that it’s built and planned by people who don’t use it. So what seems reasonable for wait times, for transfer points for someone who doesn’t ride the bus, is very different for someone who does ride.” Therefore, representatives of the state need to be people who really use the transit system and know its problems inside and out.
State elections are just as important as national elections in order to invoke this kind of change. Register to vote early for the next state elections in 2018.