I asked Anna Ricklin, Baltimore Department of Transportation’s Health and Environmental Specialist, about her experience living without a car in Baltimore. Here’s what she had to say:
How long have you lived without a car in Baltimore?
I have been in Baltimore for nearly three years and, actually, I have never owned a car. The only time I have had (mostly) unrestricted access to a car was when I was living with my parents.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being without a car in this city?
Definitely the lack of well-connect public transit. Before I moved to Baltimore, I figured getting around via public transport would be easy—like it had been in Washington, DC and Portland, OR, where I lived before. Alas, despite being an avid cyclist and trying my best to use the bus, I really only take transit when it’s either pouring down rain or I need to get to the airport. Because of the unreliable—and sometimes scary—public transit, not having a car sometimes makes it so I have to rely on friends for rides, which doesn’t always feel good. And when it’s a beautiful summer day and all I want to do is go on a hike or swim in the countryside? That can be frustrating, too.
What do you think have been the greatest benefits of not owning a car?
Well, it’s funny. Sometimes I borrow cars, and when I do I tend to drive around a lot to get lots of errands done. Usually, by the end of a day like that I am more than reminded of the pitfalls of having a car and more than happy to return the thing. Not owning a car means I am rarely at the whim of traffic (thank you bicycle), don’t have to pay a few thousand dollars per year in car insurance, maintenance and gas, and of course I don’t have to build in an extra 10 minutes parking time as yet another factor adding to me being late.
What’s the single most important thing the city can do to support alternate transportation modes?
Wow, this is a tall order—so much needs to be done. But I think the single mort important thing the city can do is work with MTA to significantly improve transit service. I don’t just mean pressure MTA to have cleaner buses or change a couple of routes. I mean the city needs to create a downtown car-free zone accessible only for buses, bicycles, and pedestrians. They need to subsidize transit passes for all city employees, create incentive programs for businesses to do the same, and massively hike parking fees. It’s ridiculously cheap to park downtown ($2 per hour?!) and the city could be making a lot more money from what is essentially rented street space. Nearly ¼ of the city’s land is used for streets or surface parking (24%). We need to change that if we are ever going to have a more livable—and peaceful—urban environment not dominated by car traffic.
Anna Ricklin has her Masters in Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and currently works for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation as their first Health & Environment Specialist. She is passionate about active living and building alternative transport networks so that no one will have to rely on a car in order to live a full life. At work, she’s helping to make the Red Line green; outside of work, she is a Collective Member of the Velocipede Bike Project; likes to go on long walks, and has an impressive collection of hats.