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I thought criminals took transit?

Last month, Freakonomics revisited the ridiculous argument that transit brings crime into the innocent little suburbs. More recently, Just Up the Pike followed a shooting that occurred on a Silver Spring bus recently, prompting more discussion on the possibility that mass transit increases crime.

No firearms in Arundel Mills. Photo by andycarvin on Flickr.

I had to defend transit to a Baltimore City police officer and friend of mine. His anecdotal claim: the subway in Baltimore has done absolutely nothing to positively impact the safety of the surrounding areas, and if anything has made them worse.

I argued that the crime stems more from the bad urbanism for which the Baltimore Metro is now notorious. Even bad transit can often alleviate crime, by lowering the cost of living. But perhaps the presence of transit has no impact on crime whatsoever. Perhaps the onus lies entirely on the good urbanism that ought to come with transit. Maybe the large, spread out parking lots at many transit stations really draw crime. I certainly feel much safer getting off at Gallery Place late at night than at Greenbelt.

Recently, some federal employees at Fort Meade received an email alert cautioning them to stay away from Arundel Mills Mall after dark. Think about that: stay away from the largest shopping center in Central Maryland while the holiday shopping rush looms upon us. Why? Inside Charm City points out this Baltimore Sun article about a woman and her young child being robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot.

Most disturbingly, police believe that this crime is unrelated to two other recent robberies around the giant oasis of auto-oriented commerce at MD-100 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. According to another Sun article on Thursday, there have been five robberies in the Arundel Mills parking lot in just the last month. MyFoxDC echoed the community's concern.

Urbanism doesn't get much worse than at Arundel Mills:

In most of these robberies, did the criminals hop on the light rail back to Baltimore city? No, they hopped into a car and then disappeared into traffic. But no one ever says "That new highway is going to bring more crime!"

Cross-posted on Imagine, DC.

Dave Murphy is a Geographic Analyst for the Department of Defense and a US Army veteran. He is also a part time bouncer. He was born in Foggy Bottom and is a lifelong resident of the DC area. He currently resides in the Eckington neighborhood of Northeast. 


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The argument that transit brings in violence, and that the people riding transit are all poor violent criminals is incredibly frustrating. It's like another way to dismiss a real problem and maintain strict classicism. It's easy to place blame without fixing the issue.

You're right, no one would EVER blame the highway.

by Katherine on Nov 18, 2008 10:20 am • linkreport

An onramp to a highway or freeway will cause more crime than a metro station ever will.

by RJ on Nov 18, 2008 11:10 am • linkreport

Nevermind crime. What about car accidents?

Studies have shown that many suburbs are more dangerous than many inner city ghettos because even though crime rates may be lower, car accident rates are much higher.

If I got on I-95 right now and drove up to Baltimore's worst neighborhood and stood around there all day, the most dangerous part of my trip would have been the ride up I-95.

by BeyondDC on Nov 18, 2008 11:41 am • linkreport

There is no denying that its far easier to carry stolen goods in vehicles then upon bikes or trains (but for very small items as jewelry, etr.)

by Douglas Willinger on Nov 18, 2008 12:45 pm • linkreport

@BeyondDC, do you have any studies that you could link to that support your assertion? On the surface it makes sense to me, but having numbers would be great.

by Michael on Nov 18, 2008 12:55 pm • linkreport

Most dangerous part wouldn't be the ride up I-95. It'd be the ride between I-95 and the neighborhood. Freeways, for all their traffic, have considerably lower accident rates than at-grade streets.

by Froggie on Nov 18, 2008 2:01 pm • linkreport

It looks like the supposed safety of auto dependence is no match for being in the un-favored quarter.

Northern Anne Arundel County is on the exact opposite side of the Baltimore region than its Favored Quarter. Without any transit, there will be no chance for any kind of revitalization. There is none at Arundel Mills mall. The light rail is miles away. The MARC is a couple of miles to the west, too.

This is a incredibly misfortunate way to debunk the myth that car-dependent environments are safer than walkable ones. Sadly, I don't think these cold hard facts will do much to change peoples' minds in the immediate future. Facts are no match for 60 years of Highway Lobby brainwashing.

by Cavan on Nov 18, 2008 2:11 pm • linkreport

Freeways -- grade separated highways -- have far safer records per vehicle mile driven then surface roads.

Alas tat gets conveniently overlooked by the doctrinaire anti freeway ideologues, such as those in control at USNCPC

by Douglas Willinger on Nov 18, 2008 3:23 pm • linkreport

Its not transit, its just Maryland.

Transit doesn't bring crime to my neighborhood, but the Wilson Bridge sure does.

by spookiness on Nov 18, 2008 5:09 pm • linkreport

seriously? You actually went there?

by Cavan on Nov 19, 2008 12:13 am • linkreport

If all goes well, the Wilson Bridge will be getting transit in time. But it seems to me that perhaps intolerance might be bringing crime to your neighborhood.

by Dave Murphy on Nov 19, 2008 12:22 am • linkreport

the roads were there, but the transportation for poorer folks to get to the crime areas - private cars - were not. when you make the train a low-cost, convenient option, people get very mobile very quickly - even poor and/or oppressed - especially poor and/or oppressed people. isn't that the whole point of mass transit?

i know why mass transit advocates don't want to talk about crime, but i'd rather we get it out in the open so we can come to some shared understanding. these false propositions are just a waste of time.

by Peter on Nov 19, 2008 1:14 am • linkreport

Suspects take transit too:

by Froggie on Nov 19, 2008 7:46 am • linkreport

"But no one ever says 'That new highway is going to bring more crime!'"

Not quite, certainly wealthy towns will resist the building of highways and particularly off ramps in their neighborhoods. My hometown fougt to prevent the building of a highway and offramps of a large freeway in the early ninieties. The bigest argument against it was first the traffic but second was that it would bring in crime. They were able to reduce the number of offramps from the planned three to just one.

"In the early 1990s when Highway 85 was planned through the West Valley city, residents fought it bitterly. They settled for allowing only one interchange in their city, instead of the three proposed. The freeway opened in 1994."

by Chris on Nov 19, 2008 2:14 pm • linkreport

@Michael: There's a good article about higher crash rates in the suburbs in yesterday's Planetizen: Rethinking Transportation Safety by Todd Litman. Plenty of citations and links to studies.

by Laurence Aurbach on Nov 20, 2008 10:32 am • linkreport

It is unfortunate that the internet has become a tool that can be very quickly used for passing along information that is sometimes inaccurate. Anne Arundel County Police have verified that information currently circulating in several emails regarding Arundel Mills is not correct. Visit to view AACPD's press release.

Arundel Mills is part of the community and what happens in the community, unfortunately sometimes happens at the mall. The Arundel Mills area has experienced a few incidents during the last two months. However, during this same time period over two million people have safely visited Arundel Mills.

The safety of Arundel Mills shoppers and employees is our top priority and something we take very seriously. Arundel Mills offers vehicle, bike, Segway and foot patrols and operates an extensive CCTV system 24/7/365. Arundel Mills offers security related services such as escorts and direct dial access to security from all mall pay telephones. The center utilizes off duty police officers that supplement the Anne Arundel County provided police officers based in and around Arundel Mills and works daily with the Anne Arundel County Police to ensure the safety of our customers and employees.

Security involves everyone. Arundel Mills encourages everyone, regardless of where they shop or visit, to use common sense safety tips such as always locking vehicle doors, never leaving valuables visible in a vehicle, being aware of surroundings, and being prepared with keys in hand when walking to and from any shopping center. If something just doesn't look right, they should return to the building and ask for assistance or call 911.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Anne Arundel County Police at 410-220-8610 or Arundel Mills at

by arundelmillsinfo on Nov 20, 2008 7:21 pm • linkreport

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