March 27, 2019
For many Maryland residents who struggle to access healthy, affordable food, transportation is the missing link. The Maryland Legislature is addressing the challenge through a bill introduced this legislative session.
The Complete Streets – Access to Healthy Food bill, which aims to guide the Department of Transportation toward explicitly considering healthy food access, would prioritize transit options for accessing healthy food markets without a personal vehicle, and it defines “food desert,” as well. It has been heard in both chambers of the Maryland legislature. If passed and signed into law, this legislation would take effect on June 1, 2019.
“Food access is a complicated issue that is exacerbated by poverty, low education and unemployment, all systemic problems that require long-term and resource intensive solutions. Improving transportation can help some of Maryland’s neediest residents who want to change their diet and purchase the foods they need to thrive,” states Karen Bassarab, a Senior Program Officer at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF). She provided testimony in support of the bill for the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
Caitlin Misaiszek, a Program Officer with the Center for a Livable Future, also provided testimony in support of the bill for the Senate Finance Committee. “The Center has conducted nine community food assessments in neighborhoods across Baltimore City, surveying approximately 900 low-income residents. After rent and utilities, they reported the cost of transportation as one of the key barriers in accessing healthy food. Between 20 and 40 percent of respondents in all the assessments cited city buses as their means of getting to the supermarket,” said Misaiszek.
In September 2017, the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, in collaboration with the Center for a Livable Future, identified an update to Complete Streets legislation as a viable policy solution to food access challenges in Maryland. The recommendation, published in a collaborative study, found that “safe bicycle and pedestrian routes can also enhance geographic access [to healthy foods].”
The bill has broad support, having already passed the House with 121 delegates in support and 19 opposed. If passed in the Senate and signed into law, this legislation would represent an important step to explicitly address transportation challenges and increase support for healthy food access.
Image: [from left] Joshua Feldmark (Bike Maryland), Bill Jorch (Maryland Municipal League), Del. Lorig Charkoudian, Karen Banks (CLF), Sarah Goldman (CLF) and Carolyn Hricko (CLF).