Saturday, July 26, 2014

Public Transportation & Hagerstown - Letter to The Editor

The following is a letter to the editor from Jamie Rowland, founder of "Healing Hagerstown"

Dear Editor,

In an effort to both gain information and share information with the fine people of the Washington County/Hagerstown community, I am seeking additional information and attention to the matter with regard to the lack of a regulated, affordable, and accessible, transportation infrastructure in our community. As many community members may or may not know, the Greyhound bus route has not had a formal bus stop in Hagerstown since early 2012. Many may not think they are personally or directly affected by this specific issue however, I would like to suggest that we consider the fact that when this bus stop was located on Rt. 65/ Sharpsburg Pike near McDonald’s, it was conveniently located across from the Premium Outlets and only a few miles north of the Roxbury corrections facilities also located on Rt. 65. This proximity, to arguably the most impactful large-scale cluster of revenue generating businesses in the area, can only have been favorable in the long run because it provided an additional point of access for non-residents to enter Washington County and spend their money here. We have a handful of Tesla vehicle recharging stations at the Premium outlets and while these recharging stations may be scarce to find nationally, they hardly seem to have the potential to be as fiscally impactful as busloads of people bringing cash carrying customers to our county retailers. There is so much dialogue in the local media about bringing new businesses to Hagerstown/Washington County. While I agree that recruiting big city employers to relocate to our area should be one of our many priorities, those currently in position of privilege and power aren’t doing enough to support the diverse number of businesses that are already in Hagerstown/Washington County.

Another point to consider, as we all grapple with the prospect of continuing to watch our neighborhoods be plagued by a devastating wave of drug use, crime, and violence; when the Greyhound bus stop was located on Rt. 65, it was a convenient location for inmates released from any of the Roxbury corrections facilities to catch a bus and head back to their home towns or elsewhere thus giving them the opportunity to leave the Hagerstown/Washington County area. I ask my fellow community members, as I know many of us have expressed concern about the quantity of criminals making homes in our community, if we don't even have a Greyhound bus stop or Amtrak station in a central location in this county, how are these individuals supposed to have the slightest chance of leaving the community once they are released from incarceration?  It goes without saying, that most of them don't leave because they are unable to do so. Instead, they become our new neighbors throughout the city and county in every neighborhood. Mr. Ralph M. Ruark No. 125977, Western Correctional Institution, shared in his letter to the editor published July 14, 2014 present factors he identifies as  obstacles which parolees face, and that significantly contribute to recidivism. He also states that upon release, many parolees are homeless and have about $50. If this community does not want to continue to absorb this population, this community must be willing to support a public transportation infrastructure  that provides  reasonable access to a ticket out of the community . At this moment, a one-way ticket from Frederick to Baltimore is roughly $30.

According to Herald Mail articles I’ve been able to locate online, it seems Hagerstown’s place on the Greyhound bus stop route started changing near the end of 2010. At which time the bus stop moved from the Sharpsburg Pike location to the Foxshire Plaza on Dual Highway as Hub City Shippers became a Greyhound ticket agent. In February 2012, the Washington County Zoning Board denied to give a special exception to allow the bus stop to continue operation at the Dual Highway location thus terminating all Greyhound operations in Hagerstown/Washington County. It is my understanding that at present date, in order for an individual residing in our community to access Greyhound’s transportation services, for an additional fee, they may take a shuttle from the downtown County Commuter transit center that will transport the passenger to Frederick, MD as it is the next closest Greyhound bus stop.

It is ludicrous to me that a city whose nickname is based on the idea of being a central hub of transportation, can have such few and often poor quality community transportation services available to its residents. A fundamental necessity of a thriving community is a sound public and private transportation system.  We should all expect and demand better bus routes and schedules, regulated and inspected taxi services, and Hagerstown/Washington County initiatives to explore an Amtrak stop in Hagerstown.  Amtrak’s personal railway transportation stations are thriving in Martinsburg, WV and Brunswick, MD.  Monday thru Friday, Maryland Transit Administration’s MARC train  system uses the Amtrak system to provide public transportation for the hundreds of people living in rural communities like our own, who travel daily to their places of employment in the Washington D.C./Baltimore Metro areas.  Surely, between the depleted quality of life one endures as a commuting employee sitting in hours of gridlock traffic just to get to and from work and the constantly rising costs of gasoline for vehicles, many Hagerstown/Washington County residents would welcome an alternative means of transportation to and from their jobs.

We are all part of the same community and we are having similar conversations about what’s happening in our community.  We need to start getting better at asking the difficult questions and making phone calls. Whatever it takes, we need to get so emotional about what’s happening in our community that it fuels our motivation to get behind a cause.  Too many of us have waited too long for someone else to fix Hagerstown. We need to unite and take action to restore our community to a place of prosperity and desirable living. If each of us does our own share of responsibility and took ownership in the community. I think we'd all be pleasantly surprised by the positive changes we'd begin to see and maybe, just maybe, people would want to continue doing their part in little ways every day to keep moving in the direction of finding ourselves in a community we can thrive in. Hagerstown's buildings didn't crumble overnight and all our downtown and county businesses didn't close up shop at once. We are in this mess because over the past several decades, elected officials and people, including myself, got lazy and stopped taking ownership of the community.  Please write your City Council member and County Commissioners if you are in support of getting Hagerstown/Washington County back on the map with regard to affordable interstate transportation.
The various issues needed to be addressed to mend our community are multidimensional and will require efforts from all residents, business owners, and elected officials. This letter is intended to get people thinking about all of the different issues in the community that can stem from one seemingly small issue like public transportation. Clearly, affordable and accessible public transportation in any community will serve everyone for various purposes. In Hagerstown/Washington County's case, having a better transportation infrastructure will have significant positive impact the city/county's economy because more people will have the accessibility to come into our area to shop and visit and travel out of our area for work and leisure, all while residing locally. Consequently, there will be a ripple effect as we make our community more accessible; being a part of our community will become more desirable. In an effort to get as many people thinking about these issues, I am forwarding a copy of this letter to the Washington County Chronicle, the Hagerstown City Council, the Washington County Commissioners, and Congressman John Delaney.

I believe each of us has much to offer our community so, I created the local Facebook group Healing Hagerstown.  Healing Hagerstown is a grassroots movement intended to be representative of the community's journey from despair to prosperity and crime-ridden to charming. This journey, to seek and expect better for this town, can never end. Healing Hagerstown must start from within. By this I mean within the hearts and minds of the residents who live here and those in position of power and privilege that are willing and motivated to put words into actions.  Any community member with an authentic desire to improve our community is welcome to join the group and our efforts to make positive changes in Hagerstown.


Jamie L. Rowland MSW, LCSW-C
Hagerstown Resident