A CityLink Red Bus travels along its route.

OP-ED | How We Get There: Commuting, School, and the Environment

Archive, Opinion, School Year 2021-22

By: Tristan Stefanovic for the BSA Muse

The Baltimore School for the Arts is a diverse school in many ways – from the makeup of its student body, to the many interests they pursue. One thing that members of the BSA community may not think about, however, is the way that students get to school. For many students, getting to BSA is an easy walk – or a quick drive – but this isn’t the case for everyone.

For those who live far away, or for those who wish to be environmentally conscious, getting to school may be a frustrating and arduous process that adds stress, and subtracts precious hours of sleep from a student’s day. So what can a student do to reduce their carbon emissions, while not forcing themselves through a big hassle in the process?

Better Automobile Usage

Carpooling, Cutting Idle Times, and Transit Connections

If a car is your only option, whether it be for distance, time, or convenience, there are still plenty of things you can do to reduce your commute’s impact on the environment.

One of the most popular options is to carpool – just find another student near you who needs a ride, and pick them up on your way to school. Carpooling is a great way to reduce the number of cars on the road, and therefore reduce emissions and traffic. Plus, carpooling can offer you a chance to socialize with friends on the way to school, which is certainly a bonus.

Something I personally have a huge issue with are parents who idle outside of the school, taking up parking spots and spewing CO2 into the atmosphere, both before and after school. In fact, this issue alone was the catalyst for me writing this op-ed.

If you’re worried for your child’s safety, or maybe want to keep them warm on a chilly day, it is more than acceptable for you to wait with them in your car. But please, please turn the car off – they’re well insulated, and worst case, you can put on a jacket. Idling for more than 10 seconds creates more excess CO2 than just turning your car off, then back on again (US Department of Energy), and there’s no reason to do it.

Another possible option for those who live far away is to use a car to connect to a transit option, such as the Light Rail, Metro, or even a bus. The train systems in Baltimore have ample parking, and some have Park-and-Ride systems that you can use to minimize how far you need to take your car. Plus, then you don’t have to worry about parking when you get into the city, or dealing with horrible drop-off traffic.

Mass Transit

Busses, Light Rail, Metro, & More

The corner of Madison and Cathedral St, as well as the surrounding areas, are a hub for mass transit options*. Cathedral St. is serviced by LocalLink 51, which runs all the way from the Inner Harbor to Towson Town Center, while Madison St. hosts CityLink Pink, running from the West Baltimore Marc Station to Rosedale.

St. Paul Street, only two blocks away from BSA, has a host of transit options – from the Purple Route Circulator, to CityLinks Green and Silver, as well as Local and ExpressLinks 95 and 103, respectively*. All of these options cover a wide area of the city, and will drop you off just blocks from school. CityLink buses also run very frequently, eliminating the need for a long wait, or the need to worry about missing your bus.

In addition to bus options, LightRail Link runs on nearby Howard Street, and provides a limited but fast service for various Baltimore locations.

The Baltimore Metro is also a quick 10 minute walk from BSA, and though it is also very limited, it connects some areas of Northeast Baltimore to Owings Mills.

And if you are worried about missing your bus or train and getting to school late, don’t be – the Transit App provides real-time bus and light rail data, including user-inputted data such as how crowded the bus is, or if transit stops are wheelchair-accessible.

Plus, mostly due to the launch of the new bus system, 77% of buses have been on-time, while 9% have been early, and only 12% have been considered late (MDOT MTA).

And just a reminder to those who may have forgotten – you can ride any mass transit vehicle FOR FREE from 5AM-8PM on weekdays! All you need is your school bus card, and if you don’t have one, talk to an administrator about receiving one!

*Since all of the streets mentioned are one-way, you’ll need to check routes for their Northbound street counterparts.


Bike Infrastructure, Sharing the Road, and Bike Pods

Another climate-friendly option for some is cycling, or biking, to school. Cycling is not only good exercise, but can also be a great option for getting around a city. Unfortunately, Baltimore severely lacks proper cycling infrastructure, though this has been improving in recent years.

One of the biggest dangers when biking can be motor vehicles, as there are many of them, and they can cause serious injury on impact (Mark Hambleton).

Dedicated cycling lanes, especially parking-protected lanes, mitigate this problem by removing cars from the same areas as cyclists, and also allow for bicycles to pass car traffic in heavily congested areas. In addition to dedicated cycling lanes, you are allowed to ride your bicycle on most sidewalks or any roadway (with the exception of highways), and motor vehicles are required to yield to cyclists in most cases (Bike Maryland).

If you feel unsafe biking alone, or are forced to use roadways with lots of car traffic, it may be a good option to form a biking “pod” with other students, or even parents – this allows students to ride in a group and be much more visible to any traffic, while being a fun, social way to commute to school.

Since there are not many dedicated cycling routes in Baltimore City, it is highly recommended you plan your route using this interactive map by Bikemore, a local cycling advocacy organization.


Local Politicians, Groups, and Self-Education

Just because you don’t use transit or cycling infrastructure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help improve it. Better infrastructure like separated bike lanes, bus priority, and more, can help get more people out of cars, and therefore reduce traffic. But better transit can lead to many other benefits, such as helping low-income communities, investing in the land around transit hubs, and much more.

You can get involved by finding your local city council member, or state congressperson, and contacting them about investing in better infrastructure for cyclists and transportation, as well as pedestrians.

You can also get involved by joining local groups, such as the Baltimore Transit Equity Commission, the Central Maryland Transit Alliance, or Bikemore. These groups not only help provide ordinary people with a platform, but some offer information, or even classes on how to help bring about better transport infrastructure to our communities.

Another way to get involved is to educate yourself on alternatives to car-centric buildings, as well as zoning laws – sometimes the best way to help is talking to another person about issues, and in order to do that you need to know what you’re talking about. Some good resources for self-education include Strong Towns, which has many excellent articles on various topics, or the YouTube channel NotJustBikes, which compares North America’s infrastructure with Europe’s, or more specifically, the Netherlands.


We can all make an impact!

Though all these actions may seem small, the more we do something, the more it seems acceptable to others, and the more important it may seem to our leaders. This can lead more people to consider alternative transportation options, and can cause the government to fund them.

Even if you aren’t planning on staying in Baltimore, or America, you can take the skills you learn from transit advocacy and apply them to wherever you live, including if it’s as simple as talking to friends and family.

And if you are in a unique situation where you can’t explore any alternatives – spread the word to others who can, because it’s only together that we can make a difference.

This is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of the BSA Muse, BSA Administration, or any student, parent, or employee of the Baltimore School for the Arts.

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This article was submitted to the BSA Muse by an external contributor. If you would like to submit an Op-Ed, please email Quinn Bryant and Alex Taylor or musebsa@bsfa.org.