Saturday, February 4, 2012

Subway Safety in Toronto - tales from the underground

This past week I indulged an old pastime: riding Toronto's subway system. It looked similar to 25 years ago (albeit more worn). Similar, that is except for security provisions.

Back in 1988 I rode the system with transit, police and a victim's group called METRAC. As part of my grad work in environmental criminology, I researched a new technique for collecting fear and CPTED data - the Safety Audit.

Today that technique is in practically every Canadian city and now even the United Nations promotes it worldwide. Yet still today many CPTED practitioners confuse the Safety Audit with CPTED surveys or checklists. Safety Audits are about finding out what local people feel and fear about a location. Before then site-specific fear data was neither collected nor targeted for fixing. Some CPTED folk still don’t.

I was pleased to see dozens of Safety Audit innovations still in place. One of them was the Designated Waiting Area on every subway platform where passengers wait for trains in a marked and specially lit area. Each DWA has an emergency phone to security and is monitored by cameras. In 1988 there were few areas like this in subways anywhere in the world.

A subway (or any public transit) where people feel safer means more people take it at night. That reduces isolation and increases ridership - a win/win. Along with the Washington DC subway (also with extensive CPTED innovations) Toronto's subway today is among the safest in the world.

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