Councilman Ryan Dorsey Focuses on Complete Streets
As one of my first acts as a City Councilmember, I began developing Complete Streets legislation that I plan to introduce this summer. Streets are the basis for community, cultural, civic, and economic life, so street design broadly affects outcomes for the communities where they are located. Complete Streets is a transportation approach that defines streets more holistically, as public spaces that serve people and communities.
During the automobile era, government thought of streets as high-volume, high-speed traffic arteries, designed to maximize the flow of cars. If street design allocates too much space to cars and not enough to people, or if design encourages cars to travel too fast or otherwise unsafely, the urban fabric is damaged in a way that prevents streets from functioning as public space.
Consider what it is like to be pedestrian on a street where the sidewalk is narrow and cars travel very close to you at rate of speed that is too fast for you to feel safe. Chances are, whether you are aware of it or not, you will avoid that place in favor of places that feel more comfortable.
A Complete Streets policy allows governments to formalize an approach that considers the needs and safety of all users-pedestrians, transit riders, bicyclists, and more-and not just cars. This approach must also consider how transportation goals can either promote or hinder health, safety, economic, and sustainability goals.
A core focus of my legislation is equity, because disparities related to transportation unfairly burden communities of color and other vulnerable populations. Equity language has only recently become a focus of Complete Streets policies. Equity is more or less synonymous with justice or fairness, going beyond treating people equally to pursuing policies that put us on a course to one day having a more equal City. In Baltimore, where racism and segregation is so stark, this means applying a racial equity lens.
While the task may seem impossibly large, there are different types of equity, and the approach I have taken is to deepen my understanding of each of them. My knowledge of these has been influenced and shaped by the work of Adar Ayira, Director of Programs at Associated Black Charities (ABC), particularly their 10 Essential Questions for Policy Development, Review, and Evaluation, and Ms. Ayira's work on the Equity Lens statement for the new Baltimore Sustainability Plan. (I serve as the City Council's representative on the Sustainability Commission).
For example, geographic equity, which evaluates how infrastructure is distributed spatially, and social or demographic equity, which evaluates how groups access and use infrastructure, are not the same thing. There is also process equity, which looks at how different groups are able to participate in and influence the processes that affect their lives.
Achieving equity means repairing the damage that occurred in the last century. It means providing more and better walking, biking, and public transit infrastructure citywide so that populations who use those modes to access jobs and amenities have safe and convenient access. Equity means evaluating whether investments are reaching all City neighborhoods. Equity means moving to a paradigm where health, sustainability, and economic outcomes determine transportation decisions.
The bottom line is this: Policymakers must have an understanding of how structural racism and other kinds of structural and systemic inequity operate in our City. These structures prevent policies and investment from having their desired effect. Our policies and investments either can contribute to or detract from a broad array of factors that determine quality of life. We must act accordingly and take steps to measure and quantify those outcomes. Otherwise, we are failing to do all we can to purse real equality in our City.
Ryan Dorsey is a lifelong resident of Baltimore City, serving in his first term on the Baltimore City Council in the 3rd District, which includes Morgan State University. You can find a link to his policy brief at baltimorecompletestreets.com.