RTA of Northern Illinois hosts Public Transit Safety and Security Summit

Feb. 29, 2024
The Public Transit Safety and Security Summit brought together members of the transit industry in the Chicago area with municipal and social service partners to discuss holistic safety and security measures that could help to improve community safety.
A cross-sector Public Transit Safety and Security Summit was held by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of Northern Illinois in partnership with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, Pace Suburban Bus, the city of Chicago, Ill., and other municipal and social service partners. The summit is a major implementation step of the regional transit strategic plan, Transit is the Answer, and a collaborative effort toward ensuring all riders and operators feel safe on transit.
The half day workshop included a panel discussion with representatives from peer agencies, including Stephen Tu, deputy executive officer of station experience at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Lesley Kandaras, general manager of Metro Transit in Minneapolis, Minn. Tu and Kandaras shared a national perspective on safety and specific interventions they have implemented in their regions, from increased policing, to forming multidisciplinary teams, including social workers and healthcare workers to support homeless people on transit to utilizing public art or classical music along with better lighting and infrastructure investments to make stations more inviting and safer for riders.
The Safety and Security Summit gathered leaders along with transit riders to explore holistic solutions. Areas of focus included:  
  • Enhancing personal security and addressing perception of crime on transit
  • Incorporating transit-specific strategies into social services initiatives
  • Creating safer, more welcoming environments in transit stations and stops 
Crime on the CTA has been decreasing. From January through November 2023, RTA of Northern Illinois notes there were about 4.7 violent crimes committed on the L Line for every million rides, down from 6.2 crimes per million rides during a similar period in 2022.
This summit was a recommendation outlined in Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s transition report, “A Blueprint for Creating a More Just and Vibrant City for All,” which sets a goal to “implement a holistic approach to improving safety on transit. Everyone should feel safe riding public transit in Chicago, particularly the city’s most vulnerable riders.”
The city of Chicago's Deputy Mayor Garian Gatewood, the city's first deputy mayor for community safety, and Illinois Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-IL-8th District), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, spoke at the event and emphasized their commitment holistic solutions to safety and security issues.
Enhancing personal security and addressing perception of crime on transit, RTA of Northern Illinois Deputy Executive Director of Planning Maulik Vaishnav presented results of a recent panel survey that asked riders how they perceive crime on transit. The study found riders are most concerned about dangerous behavior, substance use, damaged and dirty facilities.
Ways the transit agencies can have the greatest impact on perceptions of safety are by providing frequent and reliable service, cleanliness and lighting, according to the panel survey results.
“Chicago and our transit agencies clearly have a strong role to play in making sure every rider and operator feels and is safe riding but we cannot do it alone," said RTA of Northern Illinois Executive Director Leanne Redden. "Operators and riders who are most dependent on the system are most impacted by not just crime – but the feeling of being unsafe or by news coverage of a station or route in their community as being unsafe and we must center their voices and experiences in this work. Our summit brought leaders from police, social services and advocacy to chart a collective path together and I look forward to seeing more collaboration with transit moving forward.” 

Creating safer, more welcoming environments in transit stations and stops 

Each year, the RTA of Northern Illinois hosts a Call for Projects for its Community Planning program, which provides funding and technical assistance to local governments to help foster the growth of sustainable, equitable, walkable and transit-friendly communities.
This year, the RTA of Northern Illinois is piloting a new category focused on safety and security – Transit Station Activation. Under the category, funding will be made available to cover the costs related to rail station and bus stop activation projects and activities aimed at bringing a temporary, increased presence of people to transit stations and stops as a solution to real or perceived public safety concerns.
It is envisioned the projects and activities will be simple, short-term actions or events occurring for a few hours during the course of several days that will bring residents, transit riders and visitors to the area to experience the activation project. Projects could include musical performers, pop up vendors, local artist showcases, beautification, community outreach or safe walk programs. Station activation projects are expected to cost between $5,000 and $20,000 and the RTA of Northern Illinois, in coordination with the service boards, will select a few pilot projects in the category in 2024.
The RTA of Northern Illinois Community Planning Call for Projects, hosted jointly with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Technical Assistance program, will be open for applications through March 22.
“We believe that every rider and every operator deserves to feel safe on transit and you can expect to continue to hear from the RTA of Northern Illinois and see initiatives that work toward that end,” said RTA of Northern Illinois Board Chairman Kirk Dillard. “I am a true believer that transit is our great equalizer, our greatest engine of economic growth and the best investment we can make as a region. I believe the greatest days for our transit system and our region are in front of us and you all have only reinforced that belief with the great ideas you have shared today.”