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Preliminary Complete Streets Passes City Council Committee

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Maryland’s General Assembly approved a bill to establish funding for complete streets. Last night Baltimore City Council’s land use and transportation committee met to hear local complete streets legislation proposed by District Three Councilman Ryan Dorsey. WYPR's City Hall Reporter Dominique Maria Bonessi is on the line now with more.

NATHAN: What are “complete streets”?

DOMINIQUE: Complete streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and disabilities. The first complete streets legislation in the nation was out of Portland, Oregon in 1971. Then the National Complete Streets Coalition started in 2004, by Smart Growth America, a national advocacy organization. On their website they say, to date, 1140 agencies on the local, regional, and state levels have adopted this legislation.

NATHAN: So a similar resolution was passed back in 2010 by the council and the mayor’s office, but never got off the ground. Why is that?

DOMINIQUE: Since 2010 the city's Department of Transportation has had the ability to implement complete streets, but there was little movement taken. Only a few neighborhoods like those in southeast developed complete street guides, but the city on the whole did not. So this legislation would allow for that. District 14 Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke recalled why the bill has taken so long to come to this point. In this clip she is speaking to DOT Director Michelle Porciau.

CLARKE: “We had a very difficult time before your tenure here and in the intervening years getting the department of transportation report to the council as required by that law.

DOMINIQUE: Clarke is now hoping that Porciau will look at this legislation more seriously than DOT directors in the past. Dorsey has been pushing for this legislation to mandate the DOT to actual comply since his first months in office. At one point the bill sat in his desk drawer untouched, but now with the interest at the state-level the city may be able to take off running.

NATHAN: What other measures is the bill calling for?

DOMINIQUE: The bill calls for a multiple measures:

1) Comprehensive street design plan for the entire city.

2) Emphasis on equity in planning. In his opening remarks Dorsey mentioned that 33 percent of residents lack access to a car and 80 percent of red lined communities have no access to cars. Seema Iyer, a research from the University of Baltimore who has conducted research on Baltimore communities and their quality of life says commuting time are often indicators of high unemployment. Iyer says communities like Harlem Park and Sandtown-Winchester are seeing the longest commutes in the city--45 minutes a day.

3) Requiring the DOT to make clear policies on how they will reach out to the community. This legislation says there must be a public comment period.

4) Coordination between all city agencies with a representative from each agency on a Complete Streets Commission.

NATHAN: How would this be funded?

DOMINIQUE: So funding was a big problem last night. Tax payers who testified said they don’t want to see an increase in their taxes for this. Dorsey said that it was unclear to say how much exactly the program would cost the city, but the 58-page fiscal policy report states that estimated costs would be about 1.4% of the DOT’s $206 million 2018 fiscal year budget.

Porciau mentioned infrastructure grants that may be available and Dorsey also said that in Chicago the health department played a role in seeking grant funding. And just to be clear, District 11 Councilman Eric Costello said that it would be up to the mayor to increase taxes for this initiative.

NATHAN: Where does this bill move from here?

DOMINIQUE: Well, it was found favorable last night. It will move to work sessions to hone the bill’s amendments. Both the Fire Department and the Department of Planning had concerns related to upholding standards of the International Fire Code and making sure parking is also a part of the complete street design plan.

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