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Crime, Blind Stupidity, and Hypocrisy

June 14, 2011

So the other day I was talking transit with a co worker.  This person and I were having a rather intelligent conversation on the need and importance of mass transit, which he was all for.  But then we got to the topic of crime, and he began to speak with some hesitation, expressing his concern for the spread of crime via transit.  I bit my tongue to not ruin a relationship with a contractor with whom I needed at the time, but I couldn’t help but question how he came to this assumption.

Studies have been done concerning transit and crime, but most only settle on crime within the actual system.  Most attempts to study the spread of crime via transit have not worked due to the evidence being inconclusive or the increase or decrease in crime can be attributed to another variable.  Think Buckhead in the late 90’s.  Crime was going up, some could have pointed to transit, but it turned out that when most of the bars were shut down, crime began to dwindle considerably.  I think a good case can be made despite the lack of research, and through simple observations.  Jane Jacobs style. 

Before considering this idea, and if you do believe that transit spreads crime, I ask you to just stop for a second and think.  Let’s assume that you are in the “market” for a new 55” flat screen television.  Your chosen means to acquire this television is through theft.  And being that you are an environmentally conscious burglar (or just low on fuel funds) you choose to hop on the Red Line and make your way to Buckhead.  You get off the train, trek your way to Best Buy, or maybe a home on Paces Ferry Road, steal a television, and trek back to the station, wait for the train (because you are not a burglar with a sense of urgency), ride the train back, all the while nervously clutching a 55” Sony hoping no one is suspicious of you, and finally get off the train and walk home.  Done!  Pretty easy I imagine; if you were a part of the original Ocean’s 11 team.  And definitely way easier then getting your friend (if you don’t have a car) to just drive you somewhere and throw it in their trunk.

The part that irks me most though is that the blame gets put on transit.  And it’s not even founded blame, its blame contrived from poor and inaccurate perceptions.  Let’s say you did rob a bank and fled via train.  People will come out of the woodwork saying how transit enabled this behavior.  But a few months ago when a man robbed a bank in North Springs, fled via car at speeds in excess of 90mph on GA 400, then jumped on surface roads, led the police on a chase next to my apartment building and got himself shot dead, no one said “hey, that highway attracted a criminal.”  It was the proximity of the highway that allowed this person to get to where he got and commit the crime.  It was the highway that allowed him to flee at excessive speeds and not only endanger the pursuing law enforcement, but also other motorists.

Historically speaking, it is the highway that has actually created blighted, crime ridden areas.  It wasn’t transit.  Examples include the Cross Bronx Expressway taking what was once a traditionally working class area, and plummeting the neighborhood in poverty and crime via lowered real estate values and decreased access to other boroughs.  The area is now one of the 5 poorest congressional districts in the country, allowing that crime to further spread to North Bronx, reducing the desirability of that area.  This is not a result of the subway line; that is the impact of the car.  The I-277 loop in Charlotte as well as Independence Boulevard.  I-277 isolating one of the first garden and streetcar suburbs of the city, allowing for the spread of prostitution and drugs which has only picked itself back up within the last fifteen years. Independence Boulevard,  which allowed for the demolition of what was once the most populated and diverse communities in Charlotte, forced residents from homes and businesses, creating financial turmoil, and eventually the spread of crime to the North, East, and West.   The 2nd Ward population today: a robust 789, all residents of the fine residential community of the Mecklenburg County Correctional Institution.   

The list goes on and on.  Cities like Nashville, Cleveland, New Orleans, Miami, Louisville, Tampa, and Atlanta  are all on a very long list of places that constructed highway and road projects that demolished neighborhoods and proliferated the spread of crime, often creating isolated areas that were perfect dark alleys for drug trafficking, murders, rapes, and homelessness while destroying property values and safety in subsequent neighborhoods.

The end result is that there is no actual proof that transportation spreads crime, but there is a wealth of information regarding roads, and their destruction of communities and the spread of crime.  Bonnie & Clyde didn’t write letters thanking Norfolk Southern for their getaways, those were to Henry Ford.  So unless you are willing to address roads, cars, bicycles, and all other modes of transportation with the same hostility and expectance for accountability regarding their role in crime and the spread of it, you are one hell of a hypocrit, and it is best that you find another reason to lobby against mass transit. 

And hurry up, I need another blog idea.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2011 2:33 pm

    I completely agree with you about the benefits of transit, and I also agree that it is wrong-headed to fear crime in relation to transit improvements. But I think your example is off-kilter from what people worry about — and you’re going to have to speak about their actual fear scenarios to get them to change their attitudes.

    I don’t think anyone is seriously concerned about a thief waiting for a “getaway train”. Instead, what they’re worried about is two scenarios:

    (1) The existence of transit will attract a less-affluent community to nearby housing, as members of that community may not be able to afford cars, and thus tend to be transit-dependent. Some members of the community, especially children, may be unsupervised and bored at home (this dovetails with their prejudices about race, class, and ethnicity), thus increasing the types of crime perpetuated by kids and teenagers: graffiti, underage drinking and drug use, petty theft, etc.

    (2) With regard to business environments that are served by transit, teenagers from these less-affluent communities may be attracted to hang out in those areas because of the relative ease of access by transit — either because they already have passes for other reasons or because they find the fare gates easy to bypass. Once in the business environment, they perpetuate the minor crimes typical of teenagers, such as public drunkenness and petty theft.

    I think there was an element of scenario #2 that happened with Lenox in the 90s — but the benefits of transit service to Lenox (both for the mall and for the city at large) far outweigh problems like this, which are easily addressed with a little attention to security.

    But in general, I, like you, do not believe in the link between transit and crime. But I think you will find it easier to persuade an unfamiliar or hostile audience if you challenge their actual beliefs rather than the “getaway train” beliefs that they don’t actually claim.

    • UrbanCommuter permalink*
      June 14, 2011 3:34 pm

      The purpose of not taking the angle you described is because that has been consistently disproven. I could provide links for days to studies that show transit stops do not equal an increase of overall crime. The person I was talking with also understood that. It is generally the opposite (for new transit stops), in that property values increase and crime and the overall aesthetic appeal of areas improve when a transit stop is introduced. Additionally, his actual fear was the spread, and displacement of crime via a transit system. He was not so much concerned about the petty crimes, but that the transit line would actually bring criminals to his area and they would use it to commit legitimate crimes

      In the example of Lenox in the 90’s, transit cannot be attributed to any crime increase in that area whatsoever. There was an existing station since 1984, so the opening of a new station a handful of blocks away is not going to drive crime up. The argument for scenario 2 against Lenox is highly unlikely because of that. The increase of such teenagers and just overall “unsightleys” (bums, rowdy teenagers, loitering) is likely attributed to the volatile market forces that Lenox went through in the 90’s which include expansion, renovation, and the opening of serious competition that drew some of their clientele away temporarily.

      But as you said, in general the misconception about transit crime is way off base. The type of crime you talk about has been well documented and studied (and I feel terribly bad for those that still look past those legitimate facts). My intent was too look at what seems to be a growing trend in crime fears, and that is the actual migration and spreading of crime. It is something I have encountered here, as well as Charlotte, as many of the northern suburbs were actually concerned that murder, robbery and rape would spread to their area if the transit line was extended. It was also the intent to challenge their false beliefs by pointing out the hypocrisy associated with laying any kind of blame regarding crime on transit only and not other modes of transportation.

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