Outcry over light rail safety after murders at St. Paul station

Rider beware. As American Experiment recently revealed, federal data shows the Twin Cities light rail line system ranks as the most dangerous in the country. It’s not even close. The rate of personal security incidents reported in the Twin Cities from 2014-2021 was nearly twice that of Houston, the second most dangerous light rail system in the country.

The number of personal security events jumped from 33 in 2018 to 117 in 2019. That’s twice as many as the next closest light rail system…that’s also 40 percent of all personal security events that occurred across America’s 22 light rail systems. Putting that in context, Metro Transit accounted for 40 percent of personal security events on light rail while carrying only 4 percent of passenger miles.

The latest high-profile violent incident occurred on December 12 at a downtown St. Paul Green Line stop, where two teenagers were gunned down and killed. The resulting publicity forced Metro Transit to convene a public meeting to address growing criticism that was covered by the Star Tribune.

More than 100 people attended a virtual town hall Monday to raise safety concerns after a double homicide last week at a downtown St. Paul light-rail station.

The meeting focused on the building where two men were shot, which includes a stairwell and elevator connecting the skyway bridge crossing Cedar Street to the Green Line. Residents said they’re scared to go outside in parts of downtown because of gun violence and fear increased drug activity has been taking place around the light-rail station.

“It almost feels like an abandonment zone has been set up in downtown St. Paul,” attendee Milly McLean said. “I’m sitting here as a resident saying, ‘OK, is it time to go before I actually get shot by somebody?'”

The killings echo another deadly shooting of a teen last August in Minneapolis at the Metro Transit light rail station on Nicollet Mall. The Met Council oversees Metro Transit under Chairman Charlie Zelle, who’s long promised to clean up the system with little to show for results. At the town hall meeting, officials found themselves on the defensive again.

Representatives from Metro Transit, the St. Paul police department and the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety laid out safety plans at the meeting including contracting with a private security company and installing shaded windows to prevent people from looking out from the station tower.

Metro Transit is also aiming to close the tower for safety improvements by Friday — while also keeping in mind the needs of people with disabilities who rely on the elevator, General Manager Wes Kooistra said.

A city-organized workgroup focused on downtown safety has been meeting monthly since August, said Brooke Blakey, Office of Neighborhood Safety director. Part of the group’s plan will be to work with the city and Metro Transit police to boost enforcement, she said.

But it’s far from clear that the latest proposal stands a better chance of success than Metro Transit’s previous promises to reduce the threat to public safety on and near light rail lines. Judging from some of the comments on the virtual meeting in the paper, the agency has a long way to go not only in regaining riders but its credibility with an increasingly skeptical public.

“This is a symptom of why people stopped using the LRT.

– Open air drug markets – OD’s every day on the platforms – Assaults and muggings becoming all too common -Guns, gang violence and fights

It all revolves around the LRT. The city can barely afford to staff its police department and so you have even less cops patrolling the LRT platforms and trains now – so surprise, surprise, you see big surges in all of the above.” (reader comment)

“Representatives from Metro Transit… laid out safety plans.” And in other news: the check is in the mail. And your call is very important to us.” (reader comment)

“I attended this meeting. Today, I needed to take the skyway past this station to the library. It was the same scenario as always. Garbage everywhere in the athletic club hallway, a woman burning some substance in a pipe in the arts school section, random groups of people aggressively impeding the walk, the smell of urine in the Press House skyway and not an officer to be found anywhere, even though I hit the call button on the emergency call system…This meeting was a waste of time. No one in the city nor with Metro Transit cares about the mayhem.” (reader comment)