Friday, August 20, 2010

Baltimore and its future: crime and the attack on bicyclists

The future of Baltimore is in bicycling, and in walking.

Or it would be except for the horrific news of attacks on bicycle riders in Baltimore's northern neighborhoods, especially near where Stephen Pitcairn was stabbed to death in a heartbreaking robbery heard by his mother hundreds of miles away.

First there was Dan Rodricks' piece on an attack on a cyclist during the day near the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. A lot can be said about that story, not the least of which was the slow and uninspired police response, both on the 911 operator, the officer, and most importantly how the police force is structured to respond to crime from law abiding citizens. (Betcha, 23-1, if I said my armored car just got held up and I'm following it on Falls Road, the response might have been a little better). It's nice that the guy who got pelted with stones was able to use some moral suasion to pester the kids into shaking his hand (some of them, anyway). Buz isn't sure about that's staying power. They learn to "bank" people for fun and power in their neighborhood, but it's usually someone we never hear about. [By the way, I wonder what that police report looks like, when the officer eventually did find the victim--if any report was even written-heh, heh, since, actually, the kids committed an attempted armed robbery.]

Then we learn about folks being attacked as they ride their bikes through the "red zone" between North Avenue and lower Charles Village. Groups of guys knock riders off their bikes, and one of them grabs the bike from the fallen victim, and rides off. This has happened even during the evening commute hour.

Our city's future and livelihood as a livable urban space is dependent on young persons, young professionals, artists, hipsters, and even good ole bike riders like yours truly getting out of their cars and riding to work or school or just around town. Our future depends on bicycling.

Yep, riding bikes. Nobody seems to get this yet. And our city leaders are all wrapped up in patting themselves on the back for looking backward and sponsoring the past: the silly Grand Prix race in downtown Baltimore. (Nascar has been losing attendance at many venues.)

Wouldn't it have been wonderful instead, if our leaders looked to the future and took the coming end of fossil fuels, global warming and the oil spill in the Gulf seriously? Many well-educated young professionals get it: they choose local, organic, they recycle and they bicycle and walk.

Can you imagine the leadership shown if Baltimore dedicated itself to being truly bicycle and pedestrian friendly for that week, and making an effort to make cycling to and from work a priority all the time? Instead we pander to corporate interests, desperate to get any hunk of money from them, which will never cover the city's costs to put on the event. Desperate for few more bucks for the hotels and minimum wage jobs many offer. For a week. For a city with one of the highest asthma and allergy rates in the country, one of the highest air polluted cities in the country, and a downtown already choked with traffic on weekends when really nothing is going on, and which has one of the longest average commutes in the country. Noise, pollution, street closings for people trying to get to work for weeks in advance, and after, oh, and yeah, sure, eventually we'll go swimming in the harbor. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of police and fire overtime needed for the event, as well--in this fiscally broke city.

But the bike robberies might get a few arrests, then they'll be forgotten. The message the city is sending: who cares about bikes and safe walking and stuff: let's all go to cars and race: it's great. Um, yeah, it's about as exciting as watching paint dry--till there's these great crashes and explosions. So, like Preakness, the city evolves into being an entertainment place for a few days, with lots of partying, drinking, out-of-towners having "fun", etc. But the city's real problems basically get unaddressed, because they're too hard.

There's a lot of anger out there between the "haves" and "have-nots", and it often leads to violence. There's little or no manufacturing jobs out there, and a large chunk of the city is a no-go zone, where an internal civil war rages over the "game", and the anger pops loose--mostly on weekends. One judge told me a couple of years ago, regarding our broken criminal justice "system", "the criminals aren't afraid of us anymore". He was meaning us in general--the taxpayers.

So, despite what you may have thought about former Mayor Dixon, she did have a vision of clean and green for the city, and was an avid bicyclist herself. As John Lennon might have said, Imagine: closing downtown streets, not for a car race, but for bicycling and walking, in an effort to get folks moving, healthy, and combating obesity, and doing it often, and using it as a marketing and selling point in conjunction with the city's other strengths. An effort to bring the city to a more human scale, where we get to chat and wave at each other and therefore become safer. Instead, we get 200mph cars racing each other downtown, and the bike robberies and "bankings" continue.