Tuesday, March 4, 2008

going beyond the park-and-ride

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Lisa Null series continues this week; County Council discusses Silver Spring music hall today; Lamari drops out of District 4 race.

Isolating transit facilities like the Briggs Chaney Park-and-Ride from housing, shops and other places make them targets for crime because there are no witnesses nearby.

It's on the other side of the County, but I was struck by a story in last week's Germantown Gazette about a woman who vows never to take the MARC train after being mugged at the Germantown station late one night:
The woman, who moved to Germantown six months ago, was considering using the train for her commute, and shortly before 10 p.m. decided to check it out. A man armed with a gun and wearing a blue bandana [the Gazette's mistake, not mine] to obscure his face demanded cash as the couple returned to their car in the parking lot.
There are two problems with this story. First of all: why do you go down to the train station at ten o'clock just "to check it out"? What is there to see? There are no MARC trains running that late, nobody to take your questions - and, worst of all, nobody watching to see if you get mugged.

And, second of all, the Germantown MARC station, like so many lonely park-and-rides in MoCo, enable crime because they aren't where the action is. On top of that, the ridership isn't very high. (The neighboring Boyds station, on the edge of Germantown, was threatened with closure three years ago.) No eyes on the street mean no witnesses for robbery.

Germantown Town Center, a mixed-use neighborhood with shops, a performing arts center and a spanking-new library fronting a pretty little square, is three-fourths of a mile away. Would that woman still have been mugged if the station was in the middle of Germantown Town Center, where even at night there would have been hundreds of shoppers, concert-goers and residents within earshot? Perhaps. But, even if she had, there would've been plenty of witnesses, and the robber would have been quickly caught.

Our friends in the Upcounty are also alarmed because of crime at the Lakeforest Transit Center and Shady Grove Metro, but no one in the article mentioned that they are, respectively, at the very edge of a mall parking lot and in an industrial area. These aren't places where you'll have people or any sort of activity late at night. The bus itself isn't the reason why robbers and gangs like to hang out there. It's because no one else has any reason to go.

We can learn from this in East County, where we haven't had anything in the way of transit-oriented planning. Route 29 from Four Corners to Burtonsville is lined with park-and-rides, which feed into some of the region's busiest bus routes. These seem like logical locations for development - perhaps not high-rises and shopping malls like in Downtown Silver Spring, but enough to give people a reason to be there if they aren't catching a bus. The park-and-ride behind Burtonsville Crossing Shopping Center has the proximity down, but because it's on the back of the shopping center, there are no "eyes on the street" keeping an eye out for potential danger.

I'm sure MARC and other local transit agencies have lost a lot of riders due to the perception of crime in and around train and bus stations. The key to increasing ridership and taking cars off the highway is by making them safer - not just with cameras and police presence, but by turning them into more than a place to wait for a ride.

12 comments:

b said...

One thing I don't understand about this country is that the police cannot arrest someone for belonging to a gang. Is it a Constitutional right? Are there gangs that fight for education, fight to end illiteracy, fight crime? In Germany they prosecute hate crimes with a vengance. The swastika is illegal, as is Nazi literature, although it is prevelent, mostly imported, all comming from the good old USA where we have freedom of speech(mostly Illonois). ( this comes from a friend in KRIPOL, German Criminal Police).

I love my country, and our freedoms, but we have to draw the line. When hate turns to violence it should not be condoned. I find the Bush administrations affront on our rights just as reprehensible, and I don't belive in gun ownership. I live in "big bucks" downtown Silver Spring and there were 3 violent assaults on Colesville Rd. between the block of Spring St & Fenton, all on Sunday 2nd of March. This is becomming a regular event, and I fear that citizens will start to arm themselves. That will not make me feel safer. I have no answers.

Dan?

Dan Reed said...

I don't think people in Downtown Silver Spring will start arming themselves any time soon. The best we can do as citizens is to be aware of your surroundings and not do stupid things, like wandering down to an empty train station late at night when nobody's there. The Silver Spring Metro's busier than Germantown by far, but there are times when I wouldn't go there by myself.

That being said, though, I think an increased police presence is important. It does two things - it's a deterrent for those who'd want to do bad things and it also makes the police more accessible to people in the community, whether to catch a robber or find out who took the newspaper from your front stoop.

Sligo said...

"Illinois Nazis."

"I hate Illinois Nazis."

C. P. Zilliacus said...

You wrote:
We can learn from this in
East County, where we haven't
had anything in the way
of transit-oriented planning.


The above words are absolutely wrong!

The now-discredited Eastern Montgomery County Master Plan (approved by the Montgomery County Council and by the M-NCP&PC in 1981, covering the White Oak, Fairland and Cloverly planning areas) was entirely based on a concept of transit serviceability (note that this was years before the terms Smart Growth and transit-oriented development were invented}.

That plan resulted in things like massive garden apartment complexes off of Briggs Chaney Road (and, BTW, the Briggs Chaney Park-and-Ride Lot), Broadmoore Road in White Oak (see http://tinyurl.com/2acz94 ) and excessive receiving areas for transferable development rights to "protect" the county's wealthy Ag Preserve off of Greencastle Road and Md. 198.

Dan Reed said...

C.P.:

Briggs Chaney and White Oak are not TOD, though they come close. They have transit, but they're not designed for to encourage its use in the way that, say, Bethesda Row or the apartments next to Wheaton Metro are. Bus and train stops should be centrally located within a neighborhood to encourage people to walk to it. Park-and-rides are designed for cars, so they have big parking lots that empty out at night. And that becomes very dangerous for someone there alone, like the woman in the Gazette story was.

I don't know that MoCo "discredited" the concept of "transit serviceability" in East County, but it's a big mistake that they didn't carry it out any further. Briggs Chaney and White Oak have huge transit-riding populations that need better ways to get around - and safely, too.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

You wrote:

I don't know that MoCo "discredited" the concept of "transit serviceability" in East County, but it's a big mistake that they didn't carry it out any further. Briggs Chaney and White Oak have huge transit-riding populations that need better ways to get around - and safely, too.

Actually, they have huge transit-riding populations because they have
significant poor
populations with no
private automobile
available
, not because of
any planning triumph
.

As for discredited, the "concept
of transit servicability was so
bad that the Planning Board and
the Council agreed to
language which disavowed it.
You can see what the current
master plans (which were
drafted with the idea of
correcting the mistakes of
the 1981 plan) say about
transit serviceability.

Read the first page, 2nd
paragraph of the document
below (transportation section
of the 1997 Fairland Master
Plan):
http://tinyurl.com/2jccy9

Then the first page, 4th
paragraph of the document
below (1997 White Oak Master
Plan):
http://tinyurl.com/2rz8ma

Dan Reed said...

I've read the Fairland and White Oak plans a number of times, and today's East County is very different than the one for which they were written eleven years ago. The next plan, which will probably be drafted in a few years, will reflect those changes. I wouldn't be surprised if we take another look at "transit serviceability" then.

In the meantime, though, we're gonna have to agree to disagree.

b said...

Silver Spring Metro station has a presents of "Metro Cops" during the day when there are hundreds of people around. After dark, when the muggers, buggers, and thieves come out, you're on your own. It is the same in the new downtown area. The MoCo police hang out around the Majestic 20 on Ellsworth, where you feel safe due to the large pedestrian traffic, while assults and muggings take place regularly on Colesville between City Place and Spring St. Walking north on Colesville after a late showing at the AFI Silver can really get your adrenaline pumping. It seems that the police want to be where they are seen by the largest amount of residents, not where they are actually needed.

Dan Reed said...

Many a night at the AFI has been spoiled by worrying about the walk back to the car. I can understand cops wanting to stay where the crowds are on Ellsworth so people will have at least the "perception" of safety, but fanning out onto other streets would help as well.

Anonymous said...

This posting is completely innaccurate. Germantown has one of the higher MARC ridership figures in Montgomery County, Boyds is a little station in the middle of nowhere a couple miles away with virtually no parking. Germantown has a huge parking lot that is nearly filled. I doubt this woman would go to a train station in the middle of the night. She was probably a prostitute or had some other business there and is making up this story. There is a major bus station right in the middle of Germantown Town Center near the Regal. The Briggs Chaney and Lakeforest Park and Ride lots are in shady areas of the County, in fact this is the first time I hear that anyone uses the Briggs Chaney Lot. The Burtonsville lot is well used. What we need is camera surveilance of these crime hotspots to deter crime and long term policy goals to eliminate affordable housing in Montgomery County, the source of all our ills.

b said...

Camera surveilance is bullshit. It doesn't prove anything, and is why police always ask for help. This is why we need more police on duty.

b said...

What I ment to say in my post above is that surveilance cameras aren't that great for identification a culprit. A police presents is more reasuring that the knowlege that your attacker is being filmed, while your getting your ass kicked.