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Baltimore Needs Foot Traffic

(published in the letters section of the September, 1999 issue of the Urbanite)

Recently, Ingrid Krause Holt wrote a letter (Letters, Urbanite, 8/99) illustrating differences between Paris and Baltimore that leaves our city looking pale in comparison. A major point she made was with how Paris sidewalks beckon foot traffic while Baltimore's streets are pretty hostile to those who transverse them any other way but by car. Well, I'd like to thank Ms. Holt for submitting this letter. I do not subscribe to the notion that we should always act as cheerleaders for Charm City. I believe if many of us discuss how living conditions can possibly be made better in Baltimore our city could possibly become one one of the most attractive places to live in this country. We've got to also take some chances on behalf of the public good.

Actually, one can pretty much visit any European city and find abundent and vigorous foot traffic. I visited Dublin, Ireland last March and enjoyed walking with thousands along O'Connell Street, the main drag. During the 1980s the city decided to make O'Connell the widest street in Europe. (Apparently Dublin widened the median between the two lane, North and South roads that make up O'Connell Street. The median contains statues and places to sit.)

This policy was opposed by many Dubliners at the time but due to how pleasant it is to stroll along O'Connell I think it has paid off now. The sidewalks of Dublin seemed to have hundreds of thousands of Dubliners walking about every day.

A recent article by Doug Timmer in In These Times (8/8/99) described how the Dutch city Groningen decided twenty years to create a car-free downtown. To accomplish this they have closed roads to cars and constructed greenery, walkways, cycle paths and bus lanes. Houses have been built which are only accessible by bicycle while shopping centers and malls on the edge of the city have been banned. The result? According to Timmer: "Since 1977, [Groningen] has experienced sustained economic recovery. City population loss has been reversed and business, once opposed to anti-auto policies, is calling for more. The city now regularly receives requests from shopkeepers to enforce the 'cyclization' policy on streets where car traffic still has not been banned. Says Gerrit van Werren, a senior city planner: 'This is not an environmental program; it is an economic program. We are boosting jobs and business. It has been proved that planning for the bicycle is cheaper than planning for the car.'"

I think Baltimore would benefit greatly culturally and economically if this city would enact bold strategies to discourage traffic by car and encourage more traffic by foot, bus, light-rail and bicycle.

Scott Loughrey

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