Modernizing CTA will be in vain if rider safety isn’t top priority

Even if Chicagoans want to support and get on board with investing in a better, more environmentally friendly CTA, if they are too scared to use public transit, they won’t.

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A CTA worker walks by carrying a sign letting train operators know not to stop at the 47th Street station as Chicago police work the scene where a man was shot while riding on a Red Line train on June 21.

A CTA worker walks by carrying a sign letting train operators know not to stop at the 47th Street station as Chicago police work the scene where a man was shot while riding on a Red Line train on June 21.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Lately, news circulating around the Chicago Transit Authority has ranged from the ambitious $3.6 billion Red Line expansion plan to worrisome survival stories from people who experienced violent attacks.

This week, for example, we were pleased to learn about the nearly $29 million federal grant being used to buy electric buses and help modernize the fleet while taking a small step toward fighting climate change.

But celebrations of technical improvements will be short-lived when Chicagoans remember the reality of CTA today: The number of violent crimes on trains and buses has jumped to a level not seen in over a decade.

Going forward, any plans to improve the CTA will be in vain if the safety of its riders isn’t priority No. 1.

In March, after a series of violent attacks on the CTA, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announced plans to hire more unarmed guards and shuffle Chicago Police Department resources to address a “shift in crime patterns.”

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Only six police officers have been added to the police transit units since then.

Those results hardly inspire confidence among riders, especially when a Sun-Times analysis found 488 attacks had been reported on the transit system as of mid-July. That’s the most since the same period in 2011, when 533 attacks were reported.

Dan Beam was kicked in the face and stabbed in the collar bone when he fought off two men and four others involved in attacking him in July on the Red Line. He knifed three of his attackers before jumping from the train and calling for help.

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“We all know it’s unacceptable,” Beam said about the rise in violent crime on the CTA. “But the fact is the city isn’t doing anything about it. It most certainly seems like the people currently responsible for the situation are not doing an adequate job.”

Just three days after Beam’s attack, a 15-year-old boy was stabbed to death when he and six other people tried to rob a man on the Red Line.

Following growing safety concerns, CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. unveiled an updated plan last week on how the transit system would address the spike in violent crimes. Expanding police officer patrols with CPD, increasing the number of unarmed security guards from 200 to 300 and a reintroduction of canine units were part of the new strategy.

For the sake of every public transit rider, we hope the agency follows through on its plan.

Because even if Chicagoans want to support and get on board with investing in a better, environmentally friendly CTA — they won’t use public transit if they’re too scared.

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