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Friday, October 24, 2008

Crime Rides the Train

Trail from Anacostia Metro
Originally uploaded by volcrano
I have seen a million things like this since I started reading about mass transit expansion. Ryan Avent pointed me towards this article complaining about crime rising in a shopping center once a transit connection was made in East St. Louis. Mass transit will connect ruffians to places decent people like to shop. Reminds me of the Purple Line. I've established a modest readership of decent people, so I'll subdue my urge to curse like I did back in my Army days.

I'll admit, mass transit can get groups of people to visit areas they might not otherwise visit. Silver Spring is a good example, with its Red Line and ample bus line service, clientele from Northeast DC flocks to the area regularly. Are we to view this as a bad thing?

Fact of the matter is, kids from Northeast flock to down town Silver Spring because there is nothing to do in a good sized chunk of Northeast. Fortunately, Silver Spring is a very diverse area, and only a minority take issue with "bad city people" impacting their quality of life.

This xenophobic and often racist attitude is, in my opinion, largely counter productive. First of all, transit access does not increase crime. It may relocate some of it, but the fact of the matter is that right now, roads could just as easily connect criminals with whatever hangouts much easier than trains do.

Now, what do we do if crime moves into our lovely Christian suburb? You stand up to it, and make it known that it is not tolerated in Bethesda or Silver Spring or Falls Church. Then perhaps that mentality will follow the would-be thugs back to Hillcrest Heights or Deanwood, where perhaps they will be that much less tolerant of crime in their own neighborhood. Perhaps allowing people to take advantage of these wonderful amenities will inspire them to go back to Trinidad or Chillum and demand those amenities in their neighborhood, which might give the kids there something to do, and keep them off of crime. Who knows, maybe one day you'll leave your little upper-middle class bubble in Great Falls or Olney or Potomac and visit the shops at Langley Park or a new restaurant in Benning Ridge.

The change is going on right now in Anacostia, Hyattsville, and Capitol Heights.

But if we as a society are going to quarantine "undesirable" people to the "undesirable" parts of town, we are only guaranteeing that they will remain undesirable.

Besides, who gets to decide what is "undesirable"? Perhaps it is undesirable for lower income residents in parts of the region to be required to spend a good portion of their paycheck on an automobile to get to their job. Perhaps it is undesirable for University of Maryland students to trek a mile to the Metro station because the same type of xenophobia kept the train far from the campus.

I've lived in this area my entire life. Let me assure you that as recent as 20 years ago, there were parts of Georgetown that most well intentioned suburbanites wouldn't dream of visiting. While I was in high school in the mid 1990's, Columbia Heights was considered unsafe, and there were was practically nothing to do there. As recent as five years ago, the US Army banned soldiers at Fort Meade to go to Near Southeast unless they had some kind of official business there.

Without transit, U Street probably never would have recovered from the 1968 riots. NoMa would be just a bunch of empty parking lots. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor would just be a bunch of derelict garages and warehouses. Rockville Pike would look more like Route 1 in Howard County.

So to Saint Louis, I say stand up to the crime there. Force that agenda on anyone wishing to visit the nicer parts of your town. force them to bring that back to East Saint Louis, and eventually it will be a place you might want to go visit. That's what we do here in DC.


Cavan said...

It is clear to me that those who still spout this drivel about transit causing crime a) have never lived a transit oriented lifestyle in a transit rich environmnet and b) never let the facts get in the way of the opinions (more like prejudices).

Douglas A. Willinger said...

That argument could be used against ANY type of road.

I even heard it used by some narcissists in Alexandria against a bike road on the new WWB.

Being pro road, I spoke against that position and called for a doubling of such road capacity with bike paths on BOTH sides of the new spans.