Better transit, bigger crowds, safer downtown

Autocentric conservatives sometimes attack public transit as a magnet for crime. Police and commercial property managers know better.

Take downtown St. Paul, now often a ghostly locale at night, with street corners and sidewalks resembling dark alleys. But the light rail scheduled to launch there in 2014, along with associated development of housing and entertainment, should make the Saintly City's center safer 24/7.

"Right now the nights with the lowest crime rates are the nights the Minnesota Wild play," John Harrington, former St. Paul police chief and now head of Metro Transit police, told the Star Tribune. "The Saints stadium and the additional traffic downtown is actually going to be an advantage in policing because our safest days are the days when we have more people downtown. When downtown is a scary, lonely place with lots of empty streets, you're much more likely to have folks victimized."

Of course, the locked-out Wild aren't taking a bite out of crime these evenings. But it's safe to assume they'll be back on the Xcel Center ice eventually, soon to be joined by the St. Paul Saints in Lowertown, the refurbished Union Depot transportation hub and other transit-induced destinations drawing folks downtown on nights and weekends.

"Crowds and more activity are less likely to attract crimes against others on the street," Matt Anfang, president of the Greater St. Paul Building Owners & Managers Association, told the Strib. "I'm hoping that the presence of LRT stops will anchor both sides of downtown with entertainment venues that each have the potential to draw large crowds."

Just to be sure, Harrington is planning to beef up transit police foot patrols downtown. As chief of the St. Paul force, he's had experience ridding downtown bus shelters of troublemakers by using undercover officers and information from businesses' sidewalk security cameras. He said that led to arrests of "50 knuckeheads who were selling dope."

High-quality transit is anything but the boondoggle right-wingers denounce. It promotes economic development, clean, efficient and uncongested transportation, and even improved public safety.

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    Conrad deFiebre's picture
    Conrad deFiebre

    Conrad deFiebre is a Transportation Fellow at Minnesota 2020.