This letter appeared in today’s Scottsdale Republic.
I spent almost 30 years with a large city police department and have seen crime plotting near mass-transit subway and bus stops. I would hope that politicians would look at the problems with crime that accompany subways and light rails. Within three years of the light rail running to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., there was a reported 50 percent increase in crime in that particular sector. I am sure there are many other examples.
— John Rowton, Scottsdale
Has there ever been a study done that tracked the relationship between changes in level of human activity in a given area and the changes in crime rate in a given area?
It would seem logical that an increase in human activity in a given area should be accompanied by an increase in criminal activity.
Is there any evidence that shows that any increases in the crime rate in light rail areas are out of proportion to crime rate increases related to other development-related activity?
For the record: these are “real” questions, not “questions as a rhetorical device” sort of questions. I think that accurate answers are, and should be, highly relevant when discussing any sort of development activity, not just that relating to light rail.
You raise a good point, Craig. Certainly in the case of Bloomington, the crime increase could have been due to reasons other than implementation of light rail. However, I don’t know exactly how you would control for this. And if it were only a few percentage points I’d certainly be concerned about it.
Perhaps one way you could back into it is to look at another effect; The tendency of light rail to cannibalize other forms of transit. I.e., light rail sucks money and ridership from bus lines. So, look at bus-related crime vs. light rail-related crime?
On the other hand, a 50% increase is a big increase, certainly outside the range of random variation. And if the same population and geographic areas are served by light rail and whatever preceded it, you’d have a pretty good idea the increase is due to some unique aspect of the rail.
But the larger point is, I think, that proponents of light rail (who are at least to a degree in favor of the cannibalization of bus service) don’t look at these kinds of issues–nor seek the data upon which to base conclusions–before the money is spent on light rail.
After the checks are written, light rail is forever…at least whenever it is at least in-part funded by the federal government. That federal money comes with grant assurances that require the local or regional operators who accept it to continue operating the systems regardless of ridership, subsidy, and yes, even crime.