'Ugly side of convenience': Neighbours near Edmonton LRT station weigh benefits

WATCH: In Global Edmonton's Troubled Transit series, Morgan Black examines the concerning situation on our city's LRT. In Part 1, she spoke with some riders who shared unsettling stories and say they feel unsafe and uncomfortable.

This is Part 2 in a three-part series on LRT transit safety. Global Edmonton explored this topic on Global News Hour at 6 on April 27-29. Part 1 focuses on the rider experience. Part 2 explores how the LRT impacts nearby neighbourhoods and general community safety. Part 3 features city council and Edmonton police as both groups explore solutions.

When Ashley Whidden found a south Edmonton home close to a transit centre, she was thrilled by her family’s luck.

But seven years later, she said she’s discovered the ugly side of the convenience that comes with living near an LRT station.

“We are really having conversations about whether or not we need to move to a new community,” said Whidden, who lives in Malmo Plains.

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Whidden said she has had seemingly intoxicated strangers walk through the backyard while she plays with her children. Once, her kids watched an arrest happen just behind the gate.

The community Facebook group is peppered with news of thefts, break-ins and suspected arson.

“The neighbourhoods that are supposed to benefit the most from the transit system are the ones that are feeling those negative consequences,” she said.

Crimes near Edmonton’s LRT system

Edmonton Police Service is tracking community crime and in March it released a digital map.

Along the city’s LRT line, there’s a higher number of incidents which include assault, theft and weapons complaints.

“We haven’t even had to look at the crime map, because we live it,” said Whidden.

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EPS declined to comment on any map trends, but neighbours told Global News they’ve experienced the spillover of incidents firsthand.

“This uptick in crimes, if memory serves, increased when the overpass was installed,” said Muhammad Elezzabi.

Elezzabi sits on the Malmo Plains Community League and said there are currently talks about closing off the fence that links neighbours to transit. He admits that it’s not an ideal solution.

“It would be inconvenient for us users of the LRT. But, the safety of the neighbourhood comes first,” he said.

City councillor Tim Cartmell has looked at the crime map too.

“These crimes of opportunity, there is a correlation with our LRT stations.

“I think the supposition is some from that vulnerable community are making their way out from downtown into other stations and committing crime.”

Cartmell said he believes vulnerable community members are being preyed on by groups who wish to take advantage of them, which leads to petty crime in order to get quick cash.

“If we move them out of the crime industry, that helps (lower) the potential for greater crime in residential areas being supported by this essentially free conduit of travel that takes people out of the core,” he said.

Seeking help

Transit union president Steve Bradshaw said safety — and how to improve it — is on his mind too. He doesn’t believe the hired guards’ presence works as a deterrent for crime. Bradshaw said he would like peace officers to have more authority.

“They are very limited. They should at least be able to enforce the Mental Health Act. That would help us take people with real difficulties off the system and get them the help they need,” he said.

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Bradshaw said crime in the station and surrounding area makes it hard to attract riders back to transit now that they are returning to the office.

“The city is working very seriously on this problem and we are working on it with them, but things don’t change overnight,” he said. “It’s a complicated problem.”

Meanwhile, Whidden hopes her kids — when they are old enough to ride by themselves — will reap the rewards of the system.

“We believe in public transportation. We want to support the system and have our kids be a part of that,” she said. “But, if it’s not a safe space, I don’t see it as an option.”

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, a City of Edmonton official said she is concerned about the safety of all of those on the LRT system.

“We take the safety of our riders and our staff very seriously,” said Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, branch manager with the Edmonton Transit Service.

“We have a lot of eyes on the system and we have zero tolerance for harassment, criminal activity, causing harm to others or any other forms of violence on transit.”

An additional five transit peace officers will be brought on by June, Hotton-MacDonald said, bringing the total number of those officers to 93.

The city is also looking to add an opioid response team to address ongoing drug use and concerns of overdosing throughout the LRT system.

The bigger problem, Hotton-MacDonald said, is that the safety issues on transit cannot be solved by the transit department alone.

“These issues that are causing a lot of the concerns and the feelings of being unsafe are much, much bigger than transit,” she said. “It’s the most difficult part of all of this.

“We’re talking about really broad social issues: people who are without housing solutions, people who are suffering from addictions and mental health challenges (and) they’re congregating in our spaces.”

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But what can riders do now to report issues or feel safer? Hotton-MacDonald urged riders to save the Transit Watch phone number in their phone, to use one of the blue emergency phones throughout the system or, if on an LRT car, to use the emergency pull-down tab.

The Transit Watch phone number is 780-442-4900 and can be called or texted to reach the transit control centre 24/7.

In an emergency situation, riders are encouraged to still call 911.

The city is set to provide an update on transit safety to city council on May 24.

– With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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