Monday, October 27, 2008

Freakonomics on MetroLink

Posted By on Mon, Oct 27, 2008 at 3:31 PM

At the risk of opening up another round of banter and hate surrounding my August 19 cover story, Blood on the Tracks, it's worth noting that the story recently found new life online at the New York Times.

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In an October 23 blog posting on the Times' Web site, Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner uses my article to ask the question:

Could a public-transit boom result in a crime boom?

Dubner suggests that the next U.S. president will likely renew efforts to expand public transit in a lot of cities.

"There are obvious gains: environmental, less road congestion, fewer accidents, etc.," writes Dubner. "But if St. Louis's experience is at all indicative, there might also be at least one unintended consequence worth thinking about."

Like my original story, Dubner’s post elicited dozens of responses -- some incredibly insightful, others not so much.

"Public funding for crime conduits. How nice,” writes one reader. Another commentator named "Rev. Matt" notes that the Riverfront Times is "notoriously shoddy in their 'investigative' reporting."

"These problems started long before the MetroLink opened that station," continues Rev. Matt. "It has more to do with the fact that other area malls have closed down, making the Galleria the nearest teen hangout for a greater part of the population."

Maybe he’s right. As a writer with daily and weekly deadlines, I regrettably don't always have time to research every angle to a story. In fact, I probably could have written an entire dissertation on the issues of crime, race and public transportation and still not covered all the many facets related to these complicated subjects. Instead, I chose to focus on a topic that was on many people's minds -- even if many of those same folks would prefer that the topic not be addressed publicly.

Next Tuesday, residents in St. Louis County will decide whether they want to increase funding to MetroLink through half-cent boost in the sales tax. Crime will likely be an influencing factor for a few voters. Higher taxes will be an issue for others. Meanwhile, many additional residents will vote for what they see as the environmental and public benefits of future MetroLink expansion.

Who’s right? Barring a freak event (power outages, pregnant chads) we should know in nine days how St. Louis County voters feel about the economics of the issue. But the crime angle? Like Dubner in his Times' story, I'm going to leave that to the bloggers to continue to debate.

- Chad Garrison

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