Thursday, June 15, 2023

Getting There


What’s one thing missing from Columbia?

I looked at the question on a local Facebook page and did not hesitate.

Appealing, convenient, effective public transit!

And then, a sadly typical response: as long as it stays within the county.

I pressed on.

I say the more connected we are, the better!

The response was even more clear than the first time: not Baltimore, not DC. You know - - crime.

What do you say to that?

Nah, completely disagree.

Columbia/HoCo is far from the only affluent place in the US where you will find whites adamantly opposing public transit that would connect cities with suburbs. Take a look at this piece about Atlanta:

What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot.”, Kevin M. Cruse, New York Times, The 1619 Project

As the new suburbs ballooned in size, traffic along the poorly placed highways became worse and worse. The obvious solution was mass transit — buses, light rail and trains that would more efficiently link the suburbs and the city — but that, too, faced opposition, largely for racial reasons. The white suburbanites had purposefully left the problems of the central city behind and worried that mass transit would bring them back.

“The problems of the central city.” What kind of problems?

  • The policy of Redlining which reserved the best housing and the best neighborhoods for whites and kept Black residents in the worst areas.
  • The process of “Urban Renewal” which destroyed poor Black neighborhoods.
  • Interstate Highways plowing through and decimating Black communities, and serving as physical barriers to keep races apart. 

These actions and their subsequent consequences were taken by white people and and harmed Black people. Yet it’s the white suburbanites who “purposefully left the problems of the central city behind”? They had options. They had the all-white suburbs beckoning. They were not the wounded parties here by any means. 

Why does this look like fleeing the scene of the crime to me?

And now let’s put up a fence around Howard County to protect what’s ours. Maybe we should put security guards at the county line to screen visitors like they do these days at The Mall in Columbia. Sure, let’s have better transit but just for us. Let’s have desirable housing and beautiful neighborhoods just for us. Let’s have excellent schools but just for us.

“Just for us” is not Justice. It is, as a friend so deftly put it, the “Me, Me, Me!” of Howard County. It is Sally Brown asking Santa to just bring cash, preferably tens and twenties.

“All I want is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”

Appealing, convenient, effective - - and affordable - - public transit can be life changing. It can connect people to jobs, better food options, healthier neighborhoods, exposure to the arts and public parks, even much needed health care and education opportunities. Do those things belong to us merely because we are already here? Do we have the right to shut others out?

From the National Campaign for Transit Justice:

Abundant transit unlocks freedom of movement. When people can count on the bus or train to get where they need to go, they can easily access jobs, education, medical care, culture, goods and services, and the daily life of their communities. They benefit from greater economic mobility and lower household costs. Transportation systems that maximize people’s access to good transit are necessarily inclusive, without barriers linked to race, income, age, or ability. And because transit is resource-efficient and supports low-emissions neighborhoods, it’s also an indispensable tool to prevent climate change, clean our air, and protect public health.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore will be making an announcement about transit in Baltimore today. I’m looking forward to it. Many hope it will be to restart the process of the cancelled Red Line, which would have created much-needed connections for Baltimore’s Black residents and which white Republican Governor Larry Hogan called a waste of money.

Perhaps as you follow this on the news you will notice who sees the benefits of making transit connections and who just doesn’t see the point. 

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