Friday, April 6, 2012

Lose your busses, lose your city

Saskatoon, Canada. Downtown bus terminal.
Wandering the alleys of Saskatoon is always interesting. My co-instructor Elisabeth Miller and myself did this last week with our SafeGrowth class and we were drawn to the downtown bus terminal.

In the little corner of criminology that is CPTED, bus terminals are called activity generators. Without careful design and management they easily tip into crime generators. My prior blogs on bus stop crime hotspots have made this clear.

Research from Los Angeles in the early 1980s, followed up in seminal work by a UCLA researcher in the late 1990s also makes this clear.

What do we know? Terminals, stops, and busses are a linchpin for humanizing the public realm. Lose your busses…

Architectural rendering for a new, CPTED-friendly, downtown
bus terminal in Dayton, Ohio 
Saskatoon is no better nor worse than others. Their terminal is little more than a regular city street with some streetscaping and security guards. It is unlikely to attract a larger, diverse ridership. Nor will it win any awards, unlike Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton, a similar sized city, has won awards for terminal design and safety. A few years ago some CPTED-trained police officers, bus officials, and professional designers tackled a crime hotspot at the old bus terminal.

Dayton's redesigned bus terminal (photo RTA Bus Hub Report)

Their redesign cut crime, improved ridership, and became a Goldstein Award Finalist at the annual problem-oriented policing conference in 2010.

It shows how design can build community goodwill.

Access control, coffee shops, surveillance, and landscaping (photo RTA Bus Hub Report)

Today I was reminded how easily that goodwill can be short-circuited by the criminal justice system.


I refer to an attack a few years ago by a drunk on a Vancouver, BC bus driver. The driver suffered brain damage, a broken jaw and has been off work for a year. The driver's son, in the bus at the time, was also assaulted and injured when he attempted to help his father.

Today BC courts kept the assailant out of jail on a conditional sentence - conditions that he stays sober, gets counseling, and (wait for it) that he purchases a ticket before he gets on a bus! Unsurprisingly this outraged the public.

Putting aside the value of restorative versus punitive justice and how to fix the system (that's next blog), the message from that sentence is terrible. It says stay off busses.

The Vancouver press sums it up this way: "The attack on [the busdriver], though more serious than most, is part of a persistent pattern of violence visited on vulnerable bus drivers, usually with no jail time meted out to the assailants."

So while design might matter, it is not enough. We must fix our response to crime as well.