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.