Months after hearing testimony from dozens of city residents and stakeholders on a plan to overhaul Baltimore’s transportation-design framework, the City Council is set to reconsider the bill with some amendments tonight.
The measure, sponsored by Councilman Ryan Dorsey (D-3rd District) would require the city to adhere to Complete Streets guidelines catering to pedestrians, cyclists and public transit, rather than primarily cars, and invest in roads and transit infrastructure in neighborhoods that need those improvements the most. It would also set new transparency requirements for the Department of Transportation, essentially making it clearer how the agency decides to undertake projects in the first place, and require DOT to craft its own road-design manual with input from communities.
“The goal is to ensure that we have equitable access for all users in all places,” Dorsey said on a phone call Monday morning. “That’s gonna require prioritization on the basis of need. Right now, there’s no transparency about how need is defined. You could have two roads in similarly bad condition, and there’s no clear understanding of why one gets chosen for resurfacing and the other doesn’t.”
Amendments made to the bill since its introduction last year—and since its April public hearing—aren’t substantial, but do add some new caveats. One amendment exempts “ordinary maintenance” of roads, such as filling of potholes or landscaping, and new road projects that are already 30 percent finished, from the new decision-making process.
Another change requires that transportation projects undergo an “equity assessment” when being decided upon. Dorsey said that language “essentially mirrors what it is in the equity assessment [charter amendment] that the council already passed” this summer.
Yet another amendment that Dorsey says was pushed by DOT—he argues it wasn’t needed—says that any project receiving state or federal money will adhere to state or federal road-design guidelines if the city’s new Complete Streets guidelines conflicts with those rules in a way that could affect funding.
Dorsey said the change is “completely and entirely unnecessary because there’s absolutely nothing in the bill that conflicts with any or state federal guideline.” However, “the Department of Transportation just wouldn’t let this go.”
In an email late Monday, after the Baltimore City Council meeting began, DOT spokesman German Vigil said the agency “generally agrees with most of the language in the Councilman Dorsey’s Complete Streets bill as amended, to improve safety and accessibility for all users of the transportation system.”
“The implementation of this bill is proceeding hand-in-hand with DOT’s review of procedures and changes to processes including coordination with city agencies involved in complete streets projects.”
At a hearing in April, city Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau testified in support of it, and Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young also gave his backing.
Young’s chief of staff, Lester Davis, said Monday that Young is “very happy with the bill and thinks that this is gonna be great for Baltimore.” He noted the council president and Dorsey have worked closely on the language since the councilman introduced the proposal in July 2017.
More than 1,400 such policies have been adopted around the country, according to national advocacy coalition Smart Growth America, including in peer major cities like Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York.
Dorsey says he expects “strong support” from his council colleagues tonight. If passed, his legislation heads to third reader, or final passage, at the council’s next hearing on Oct. 29.
Also headed to preliminary passage tonight: Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer’s ordinance to make diaper-changing stations more widely available around the city. The 5th District councilman has said he’s observed a lack of such facilities in public buildings, and, per WTOP, even “witnessed somebody changing a child’s diaper right there on the table” while eating lunch in City Hall.
As The Sun has noted, fellow dads love the idea. The council held a public hearing on the bill just last week.
The council is also set to issue a final vote on a bill from Councilman Zeke Cohen (D-District 1) to set more stringent transparency rules for lobbyists in city government. The legislation requires them to file disclosure reports twice a year (it was originally four times per year, but that mark was cut in half at an August hearing) and the city’s ethics board to post all reports online within 30 days. Lobbyists who violate the rule would face a three-year ban.
The measure goes to third reader for full approval tonight.
The City Council meeting kicks off at 5 p.m.
This story has been updated.
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