Maryland Del. Robbyn Lewis on how not proudly owning a automobile has formed her concepts about transportation coverage

, Maryland Del. Robbyn Lewis on how not proudly owning a automobile has formed her concepts about transportation coverage


Earlier than being appointed to the Normal Meeting in 2017, Lewis had labored in public well being and was an advocate for transit. She talked to The Washington Publish in regards to the challenges of dwelling in Baltimore with out a automobile, the angle it’s delivered to her position as a lawmaker and concepts for making streets extra welcoming for pedestrians. This interview has been flippantly edited for size and readability.

Q: What was your thought course of for giving up your automobile whenever you had been dwelling in Baltimore and the way did you must adapt your life?

A: I moved to Baltimore in 1999 from Haiti. I used to be dwelling abroad and I completed graduate college and I used to be working my dream job down in Haiti, doing tuberculosis, medical trial analysis work for [Johns] Hopkins. After which I received a possibility for an additional Hopkins place based mostly in Baltimore. I had a sleeping bag and a few books and no automobile. So I received right here with out a automobile and rented an residence that was strolling distance from my workplace. That call to discover a place to dwell that was strolling distance from my work formed the whole lot about my life. I didn’t need to personal a automobile. I needed to stroll to work after which fly around the globe, which I did. I bear in mind telling folks once I moved right here that I didn’t personal a automobile and so they had been identical to, horrified, speechless, aghast.

A yr after shifting right here, I form of broke down. I had to purchase a automobile. I couldn’t do family buying except I known as for a yellow cab. It did fulfill a goal so I might go to House Depot or no matter, however I hated proudly owning it. However when you get on the automobile possession practice, each power in our society bends to tie you immovably, inextricably from automobile possession, particularly on this metropolis, the place transit is so underinvested and repair high quality is so poor.

There’s a tradition of hostility and contempt for public items basically, however transit, specifically, that’s grounded in our metropolis’s very particular historical past of racism and white supremacy. Public items are denigrated as a result of they’re related to public entry, and which means Black folks can contact it. And that’s actually how transit is on this city.

Q: You’ve made a case for why you’ll possibly need to have a automobile, even in case you don’t notably prefer it. How did you get to the method of giving up that automobile?

A: It was a supply of distress in my life, and I dreamed of dwelling in a special place the place I didn’t really feel the burden, the pressured impinging burden of automobile possession. I received concerned in advocating for the Pink Line light-rail mission again in 2010 or so. And on the time, I discovered that the closest Pink Line station was going to be fairly a distance from my home. However the concept was so thrilling to me that I might make lengthy journeys on fashionable rail. I spotted, even with the station slightly little bit of a distance from my home, having that mild rail would obviate the necessity for automobile possession. So I principally owned a automobile, hating it the entire time for 14 years. After which it was the Pink Line that promised to set me free from that burden.

Q: Clearly, the Pink Line hasn’t been constructed. It’s not clear if it is going to ever be constructed.

A: I gave my automobile away in October 2014. [Gov. Larry] Hogan was elected in November 2015 and the clock began ticking. Eight months later, that man canceled the project, however in the meantime I had already gotten rid of my automobile and I used to be a happier individual with out it. And by then, I’ve discovered the right way to get round, do issues I have to do with out a automobile. Loads of issues modified within the 14 years since I had moved to Baltimore. When you wanted wheels, you can hire a Zipcar or name a ride-share. We had much more bike infrastructure. So simply because Hogan canceled the Pink Line, it didn’t change my dedication to a car-free life-style. It actually cemented it. The cancellation of the Pink Line actually turned being car-free right into a political act.

Till you get out of the automobile, throw away the keys, put in your sneakers and begin strolling, you haven’t any concept of the world that we really dwell in, and Baltimore Metropolis modified radically for me once I removed my automobile. I began to see issues much more clearly. Not proudly owning a automobile expanded my world.

Q: What do you see because the alternatives for altering the best way we take into consideration transportation? Are there issues that you simply suppose Maryland might do?

A: Within the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter summer time, the George Floyd protests, there’s this burgeoning curiosity in making a extra equitable society. We might have immense influence in decreasing the disparate harms that Black folks, Native People, immigrants and poor White folks face if we decreased our dependence on automobiles. We might do an unlimited change by making a couple of shifts. We might scale back plenty of harm, which additionally disparately harms Black folks and poor folks, by slowing down automobiles. It doesn’t require a billion {dollars} of Construct Again Higher infrastructure cash. It simply means having the political will to move a invoice to decelerate the visitors.

One other actually easy factor we might do that will prioritize human life over automobile comfort, we might plant extra bushes, and we’re doing that. We all know that planting bushes improves air high quality in a metropolis that has a number of the worst air high quality within the state. It simply so occurs that extra bushes additionally slows down automobile speeds. We might make mass transit extra enticing, extra environment friendly, sexier by investing to enhance the frequency of bus service.

The carrot that I dream of could be to make it very easy for each family to personal an electrical cargo bike — not simply an electrical bike, however a cargo bike. Electrical cargo bikes assist you to carry kids, groceries.

Q: We’re in a second the place there’s curiosity in constructing large new issues. Do you suppose the Pink Line could possibly be revived and do you suppose large initiatives like which have a task to play?

A: Sure, I consider in large sweeping modernizing infrastructure investments. We completely want fashionable transit infrastructure. Fashionable transit infrastructure is mild rail, it’s subways, it’s commuter rail, it’s bike lanes. It might take the remainder of my lifetime, however I’m going to lend each nanojoule of my power to get this metropolis a contemporary east-west light-rail community. As a result of I select to not personal a automobile, it simply jogs my memory on daily basis in regards to the challenges that my constituents face.


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