Opinion: Maryland needs to address its segregated population


Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

As Maryland continues to cancel transportation projects in disadvantaged parts of the state, the inequality continues to grow.

Ivan Endelman, Features Editor

As a new administration takes charge of the country, anxiety stemming from national and global news appears to be stabilizing (excluding an occasional coup in Southeast Asia or a Q-Anon conspiracy theory spewed from a sitting congresswoman). So as our attention begins slightly drifting back to local matters, Maryland’s severely flawed public transportation system needs to be addressed. This lack of sufficient transit, which tends to be neglected, is one of the biggest roadblocks to economic success in our state.

While the start of construction on the Purple Line could positively impact residents that previously didn’t have access to public transportation, the cancellation of projects located in more disadvantaged Maryland communities continues to fuel economic inequality along racial lines.

For example, in 2015, a carefully planned project called the Red Line was proposed for Baltimore, which would have given over ten thousand residents job opportunities previously out of reach.

This project, which would have cost well over two billion dollars less than the future Purple Line, was nixed by Governor Larry Hogan, who labeled it a “wasteful boondoggle.” He also cited the city’s civil unrest following Freddy Gray’s death to justify withholding approval. 

Six years later, citizens of Baltimore are still suffering from this decision. One study from the Texas A&M transportation institute found that Baltimore residents spend an average of 59 hours annually in bumper-to-bumper traffic, which is an increase of 26% compared to a decade ago. 

While the rest of Maryland is much more rural and therefore has a much lower bar when it comes to commute times and public transportation services, it still ranked second to last regarding a list of commute times compiled by U.S. News. The commute time for an average Maryland worker was 32.9 minutes. So even after considering Maryland’s rural regions, it still ranked behind states like Nevada, Utah and Arizona, which all have more rural populations. 

This second to last standing among all rural and urban states translates to 60% of central Maryland’s population not living near a transit stop and 50% of the regions’ jobs being inaccessible via public transit. These statistics represent Marylanders who either live in extremely rural areas void of any public services or Marylanders living in neglected urban areas without sufficient transit. Therefore, this seems to indicate that those two disadvantaged communities’ public transportation needs have not been sufficiently addressed (or at least not as well as in other rural states).

Struggling transportation systems don’t merely affect all Marylanders equally but instead harm lower-class residents and minority communities. The first reason for this is that regions across the state where transportation is ignored most tend to be communities with less influence and economic prosperity. Without these advantages, residents end up with less public transport and, therefore, fewer job opportunities. Because the likelihood of owning a car decreases drastically in more impoverished communities, residents cannot always work around this lack of public transportation by driving to work. This creates a disastrous mess where communities stuck in poverty and stranded from job opportunities experience an increasingly improbable pathway out of hardship. 

Luckily, some Maryland leaders floated other plans and projects over the past year. One such project is the Regional Transit Plan, which entails 25 years of construction and development before achieving its goal of finally connecting residents to job opportunities.  

While actually addressing this problem instead of sweeping it under the rug is a step in the right direction, this new plan still misses the point. First of all, it does not truly focus on creating new transportation routes; instead, its goal is to improve routes that already exist. This will not help the 60% of central Marylanders without access to transit stops.

Secondly, there is a minimal amount of innovation included in the project, even though it is slated to finish over two decades from now. While the 2015 futuristic rail line would have gone directly under Baltimore and provided new routes at a quick speed, this project primarily continues to use regular buses and routes when it comes to getting residents to job opportunities as quickly as possible. Buses are still needed to facilitate more advanced railroads, but they are also unable to run public transit entirely on their own. Therefore, it would be wise not to invest in buses that are already serving their purpose, but new rail lines, subway trains and trams instead that would increase job accessibility. 

While promoting mass transit that finally connects Marylanders to jobs is crucial in addressing our state’s underserved communities, Maryland’s current plan does not provide the fundamental change necessary to achieve this goal. Instead, money is spent on circuitous transportation routes rather than creating new ones and environmentally hazardous and slow bussing systems rather than more innovative forms of transport. 

When it comes to solving our state’s ineffective transportation, especially in underserved minority communities, we should be fully investing in innovative systems that will decrease Marylander’s commute time while increasing their accessibility to jobs.