(published in the letters section of the September, 1999 issue of
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
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.