Experts say light rail won’t bring crime

Research shows concern in Prospect Park about safety is unfounded.

Alex Bitter

When the newest leg of Minneapolis’ light-rail system opens next year, Prospect Park residents and businesses may find things safer than they imagined.

Some in the neighborhood have expressed concern that the Green Line may bring higher crime rates when it opens next year, but authorities say they don’t need to worry.

Eric Stadstad, who owns Anytime Fitness at the corner of University and 29th avenues southeast, said he’s been concerned about the light rail’s effects since he bought the gym six months ago. He said the Prospect Park Station just up the street could bring more criminals to the neighborhood.

“It’s just easier for people to get around,” he said.

But University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs assistant professor Yingling Fan said Stadstad’s worries are unsubstantiated.

She led a survey that included respondents from Prospect Park and other neighborhoods around the University. The survey found that residents along current and future Twin Cities light-rail lines associate the stations with more crime.

“People are expecting higher crime rates after the initial implementation of the Green Line,” she said. “This is just people’s perception.”

Fan said studies in other cities around the country, including one that examined the effect of a rail line on crime rates in Los Angeles, have similarly rejected the perceived correlation between crime and rail transit systems.

“The consensus is that a light rail line has no significant impact on crime rates in the station neighborhood,” she said.

By the time the Green Line opens, the Metro Transit Police Department will have added 22 officers, spokesman John Siqveland said. The additional forces will specifically patrol the new line, including its stretch through the University and Prospect Park.

The neighborhoods along the Green Line already see many commuters, thanks to multiple bus lines that serve the same route, Siqveland said.

“It’s [just] a change from bus service to rail service,” he said.

MTPD east command captain Jim Franklin said his department has been training with University police to prepare for the line’s opening.

Franklin said he’s visited communities, including those around the University, to try to change minds about the rail’s effect on crime.

“We’re really trying to reach out to the communities to try to resolve some of these perception issues,” he said. “It’s perception versus reality.”

Dick Gilyard, an architect who was involved in the development of the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association’s LRT Station Area Plan, declined to comment on whether he thought the rail would bring more crime to Prospect Park.

He said additional businesses and research facilities on land near the rail line could make the area less attractive for criminals.

“That level of development and the nature of the mix [of businesses] would become a deterrent to crime,” he said.