I make my way through Baltimore’s Little Italy to catch the Shot Tower metro to Johns Hopkins Hospital. It’s a quick walk — maybe 10 minutes to the station. From there, I wait for the next available train and then ride the subway one stop to the hospital. All in all, the journey takes about 20 minutes in the morning.
Although I have a car, relinquishing my parking spot to sit in traffic, drive a few miles and navigate through a parking garage isn’t worth the hassle. The metro is clean, and the walk to and from the station always closes the daily workout ring on my watch. I feel incredibly fortunate to live and work near a metro line that takes me to my job and back home with safety and reliability; it makes me wonder how many others would seize the opportunity to have a similar morning commute if transit were available for them.
As a health care provider, I see patients from morning to afternoon at the downtown Hopkins hospital. Unlike many providers, I allot a 30-minute grace period for appointments to allow for Metro delays or missed buses. For many of my patients with poor vision, the Metro system is integral in making health care appointments. When the Red Line concept was shot down in 2020, Baltimore missed out on an important opportunity for its citizens to obtain much-needed transportation services. This second Metro line would have connected some of West Baltimore’s most critically vulnerable communities with the employment opportunities, schools and medical centers necessary for them to thrive.
Transportation equity means equal access to transportation resources to all communities in our city; this alone would drastically improve our health care system. Access to safe, clean and reliable transit for everyone means patients can make and keep appointments without added costs. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Community Health demonstrated how a lack of transportation directly contributes to decreased population health.
Currently, the one existing Metro line connects patients with Johns Hopkins’ East Baltimore campus, the University of Maryland and the Baltimore Veterans Affairs hospitals (the latter two accessible from the Lexington Market stop). The Red Line would have offered an additional stop at the University of Maryland as well as at Johns Hopkins’ Bayview Medical Center.
While the Red Line would have added desperately needed service to many more people in Baltimore, it would still fall short of closing the transportation equity gap in this city. Where are the stations that connect to MedStar or Mercy hospitals? For those living in communities as close as Locust Point, Cherry Hill or Brooklyn, taking public transit to Johns Hopkins could require riding two different bus lines, a journey which can take up to 45 minutes.
For some, maneuvering how to get to the appointment is enough to deter seeking further medical attention, resulting in additional health problems and increased costs down the road.
Opponents of the Red Line have often used fear-mongering as a tool to prevent further Metro development. Instead of investing in current infrastructure — which eliminates vehicle congestion and reduces greenhouse emissions — opponents often argue that developing Metro lines would be too financially burdensome.
However, as Baltimore’s gas prices climbed over four dollars per gallon, I see this as an opportunity to convince others to transition to the reliable transportation that is already in place. A 2021 study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University, the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition and members of the Baltimore community further underscored the necessity for equitable transit changes in this city. This research data overlaid maps of community comorbidities, transportation access and population demographics within Baltimore City to highlight areas in dire need of transit improvements.
As political momentum builds for the 2022 gubernatorial election, Baltimoreans should be holding candidates accountable for transportation equity in the city. Let’s provide our communities the resources they need to live successful lives — whether getting to work, getting to school, getting home or getting to their doctor’s appointments.
“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” ― Gustavo Petro
Bryce St. Clair is a Baltimore-based optometrist and assistant faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute.