Fear and Loathing and Buses in the Suburbs

Spring Happenings is an online journal for folks living in that little slice of heaven north of the beltway between Hwy 249 and I-45.

And to keep it heavenly, Spring Happening’s president, Zach Karrenbrock is urging readers to attend a community hearing to oppose METRO’s plans to run a bus line to Spring.

“Implementing METRO bus service in Spring will give criminals an easy way in and out of our community,” said Karrenbrock. “I believe some type of public transportation is needed, especially since Spring is growing at such a rapid rate, however, a METRO bus line is NOT the answer.”

It’s nothing new to hear people oppose new rail or bus lines by warning that public transit creates an express lane for criminals.

It’s also not true. Burglars don’t take the bus.

In a very comprehensive study, Journeys to CrimeAssessing the Effects of a Light Rail Line on Crime in the Neighborhoods, researchers at the examined this myth:

The implementation of new transit lines is some times dogged by concerns that such lines may increase crime rates in station neighborhoods. Affluent communities have often complained that transit lines transport crime to the suburbs. This study focuses on the Green Line transit system in Los Angeles and examines its effects on crime in the adjacent areas. The Green Line light rail system passes through some high-crime inner city neighborhoods and terminates at its western end in affluent suburban communities. The study examines neighborhood level and municipality-wide crime trends for five years before and five years after the inception of the line. A piecewise regression model is developed to evaluate the impact of the opening of the line in the station neighborhoods. GIS analysis is also utilized to identify spatial shifts in crime hot spots for the municipalities abutting the Green Line. At the end, the study establishes that the transit line has not had significant impacts on crime trends or crime dislocation in the station neighborhoods, and has not transported crime from the inner city to the suburbs.

Public transit has faced the myth of the criminal many times. As a result, some pockets of major urban centers are transit deserts, cut off from culture and commerce.

One of the most frustrating parts of visiting Washington, D.C., for example, is that the very efficient and easy to use subway does not go into Georgetown. Residents of that tony territory were also convinced criminals would use the Metro to sneak in and steal their silver. <Insert snarky and cynical comment about the fact that the lobbyists, lawyers, politicians, and diplomatic hangers-on are now stuck using town car service instead of the Metro to get in and out of Georgetown while stealing our nation’s silver.>

This is not to say that crime doesn’t happen on or near trains or buses. It does. But that’s because crime happens, full stop. Criminals don’t come into being only when conjured by two bus tokens being rubbed together.

At best, those who oppose expanding public transit options are misguided folk who’ve never stopped to consider that a person fleeing the scene of a crime would hardly want to risk waiting at a bus stop on a major thoroughfare for 20 minutes in afternoon rush hour while wearing a mask and holding a 42″ plasma TV with the wires dangling from it.

At worst … well, we’re sadly familiar with the racially coded language of suburban fearmongering.

I find it particularly amusing that the editor of this website acknowledges that some public transportation would be helpful, just not METRO. As if the city’s crowbar-to-the-back-door set has Q cards and fierce brand loyalty.

Houston desperately needs more transit options. METRO has done a phenomenal job of studying commuting patterns, traffic flow, geographic population distribution, and re-routing under-utilized lines, all of which has improved service.

Opposing a bus line now won’t reduce the crime rate, but it could mean that once the gridlock gets bad enough, people will stop moving to Spring, preferring neighborhoods with better transit options.

Let’s hope that the hardworking residents of Spring who would very much prefer the cost and ease of riding METRO over having to drive a car (and pay for gas, insurance, repairs, and parking) are not cut off from the city because of a few loud opposition voices.

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