Del. Robbyn Lewis on Thursday announced the creation of a coalition of community members and organizations that want to make Baltimore’s streets slower, safer and more “livable.”
The Livable Streets Coalition is a grassroots collective that aims to improve the safety and accessibility of Baltimore’s roadways.
Lewis, who serves Maryland’s 46th District, encompassing southern and eastern portions of Baltimore City, said East Baltimore residents started contacting her in the fall of 2018 about a conflict over efforts to reduce traffic speeds.
Some residents had requested traffic calming measures to slow down vehicles, but others worried that the efforts would gentrify the neighborhood, Lewis said.
After Lewis and a couple interns knocked on close to 400 doors, they found that residents ultimately agreed that more walkable streets would be an improvement.
What started as a steering committee evolved into the Livable Streets Advisory Group in October 2019, with members of the group representing several major neighborhoods in East Baltimore, Lewis said.
Lewis said the group was an opportunity for community members to forge bonds by working together on a common issue.
“There really wasn’t a lot of communication and collaboration across these neighborhoods, which I saw as an enormous missed opportunity for organizing people, sharing concerns, building power over those concerns, and breaking historic racial social barriers,” she said.
This week the advisory group, which Lewis said had a “hyperlocal” connotation, evolved into the Livable Streets Coalition to appeal to the growing number of Baltimore residents and organizations who are interested in the group’s mission.
The group requested a traffic study from the Baltimore City Department of Transportation for Orleans Street, which Lewis said they are still waiting on.
They are also working to identify roadways that would be good fits for the city’s Slow Streets program that the Department of Transportation officially launched earlier this month after pilot programs at Druid Hill Park, Lake Montebello and Patterson Park.
The department on Friday announced the first 32 roadways, covering more than eight miles, that will be converted into Slow Streets.
The streets that have been announced so far are located in Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 11 and 14.
The Department of Transportation will install a total of 25 miles of slow streets over the next few weeks, with locations across all 14 of the city’s councilmanic districts. People can submit their nominations for roadways that they want to be converted into slow streets on the department’s website.
The idea of “livable streets,” Lewis said, is meant to unite education, environmental, public safety, transit and mobility advocates under one umbrella.
“What we need is a groundswell, a screaming demand from the grassroots for public spaces that are healthy and welcoming. For me, the concept of livable streets encapsulates that,” she said.
Lewis said the coalition eventually wants traffic calming on high-speed urban areas such as Fayette, Monument, Madison and Orleans streets, although she said those are “not low-hanging fruit.”
In the short term, the coalition is setting its sights on “low-stress,” residential streets to become more pedestrian friendly, such as Ellwood and Kenwood streets, Lewis said.
Lewis has released a survey in both English and Spanish for community members to identify streets that they would like to be turned into Slow Streets under the city program. She also hopes to hold a phone bank to reach older residents and other constituents who do not have access to social media.
Then, Lewis will compile those responses and submit a consolidated request to the Baltimore City Department of Transportation.
Lewis said that car-centric design is “one of the residues of white supremacist public policy in Baltimore City.”
“We’re talking about the unspoken, unacknowledged harm that comes from our car-centric urban transportation policy,” she said. “The decisions that were made long ago and up until today that privilege cars over people disproportionately affect African-Americans, Hispanics and working class and poor people in the city.”
Lewis said she hopes that the Livable Streets Coalition can help undo some of those policies and create “safer, more pedestrian-friendly, human centered streets” in Baltimore.
“White supremacy is baked into the bricks of our buildings,” she said. “It’s mixed into the concrete and asphalt that we pour. It’s our duty to un-build those things and that’s what I hope this coalition can begin to do.”