Thanks to the Star Tribune editorial staff for its special report about making Twin Cities light rail secure — as far as it goes. The eight recommendations are a good start. ("Systemic Insecurity: Saving Twin Cities light rail," first published Nov. 16 at StarTribune.com.)
What would really make me feel secure at the Lake Street station on the Blue Line — and other stations, and on trains in between — is if there were Metro Transit Police Department stations built into the actual light-rail platform complexes, with officers coming and going on foot — either to trains or their patrol cars — at all hours, through and around the complex.
Of course Metro Transit police do not work out of precincts or districts like city police departments, I assume because much of their beats are trains and buses in motion and incidents could require their presence anywhere along Metro Transit's many routes, at stops or in between. Ironically this means using patrol cars for a system designed as an alternative to cars. Some but not most systems elsewhere have actually located one or more transit police stations at transit stations.
There is a decadeslong history of advocating and implementing "community policing" by city departments, often with positive results. Since rail transit already has huge investments in stations, it seems logical to use those locations as sites for analogous community transit police stations. Such facilities could also host non-sworn social service liaisons of the kind now being funded as alternatives to work with those on trains who do not present threats of violence.
Enclosing the at-grade stations with fences and turnstiles is worth piloting but unproven. At grade, trains must enter and exit such stations through openings which, if not equipped with gates, perpetrators could use to access and victimize legitimate patrons awaiting trains. Perpetrators could also cut or climb fences, and I don't think anyone wants to equip fences with the draconian features — familiar around prisons and secret military facilities — required to prevent breaches. Enclosure works for below-grade and elevated metro systems in bigger systems throughout the world without gates, because perpetrators have no place to go using openings at either end of platforms. At grade, gates would be required. Some systems abroad have heavy reinforced glass curtains that separate platforms from tracks until a train arrives, but those are below-grade.
I hope any such changes involve a rigorous public engagement with "choice" riders — not just those who are transit-dependent. Without choice riders, rail transit is not worth its high capital investment.
Mathews Hollinshead, of St. Paul, is a member of the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Advisory Board.