Transit officials looking to Ludwig and his posse for help

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 2, 2012 - 10:47 PM

Officials hope music from the likes of Beethoven chases troublemakers at light-rail stop.

Run along, raucous teens. Ludwig van Beethoven is performing at the Lake Street light-rail station.

The Metro Transit system has turned on great composers in hope of turning off loiterers, vagrants and other troublemakers attracted to the station. "If it encourages some people to wander away because it's not their favorite type of music, I guess that's OK," said Acting Transit Police Chief A.J. Olson.

The classical music strategy -- modeled after a transit campaign in Portland -- is part of a suite of initiatives to improve conditions at the station. They include more lights and security cameras and a beefed-up police presence during the hours immediately after school and in the evening. The station's design -- with enclosed spaces on two levels -- is unusual on the Hiawatha light-rail line and can attract trouble.

"It has these areas that are heated with overhead lamps," said Minneapolis City Council Member Gary Schiff. "People can just hang out there."

Metro Transit took action last summer after neighborhood residents complained about the station becoming a haven for rowdy teens and vagrants.

While vandalism and disorderly conduct were the most common problems in and near the station, two young men were stabbed and two others arrested last April after a fight broke out there.

Scene at the station

The musical strategy aims as much at creating a soothing ambience as irritating unappreciative troublemakers.

At the station Thursday, Breanna Dimartino, 18, a senior at South High School, was skeptical about classical music reducing problems such as theft.

"I don't feel like that makes people calmer, like, when they walk in they're less likely to commit a crime," she said.

Bennie Henderson, 41, listened to a hip-hop artist and didn't notice the flourishes of string and wind instruments until he pulled out his earbuds.

"It's soothing, if I'm not listening to my headphones," Henderson said.

Henderson said he hasn't seen as many young people hanging around the station in the past few months.

The station pipes the classics into the existing public address system. Metro Transit bought the recordings for $150 from a company that offers the dead composers among "royalty-free" selections.

Besides Beethoven -- Symphony No. 3, "Eroica," Second Movement -- the recording includes selections by Bach, Mozart, Handel and Strauss.

The loud ensemble can be rousing to some riders entering the station.

"You go up that escalator and you feel like you're on your way to invade Poland," said Eric Gustafson, assistant director of the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, which complained about conduct at the station.

Portland says it works

Not everyone is sold on using classical music as a deterrent.

"Classical music lovers hate the fact that urban planners use classical music to disperse youth," Schiff said.

But Metro Transit proponents aren't even sure it works.

"Does it chase crime away?" Olson asked. "It's hard to measure."

"But I do think it makes it a more pleasant place to wait for a train," he said.

Portland Police Lt. John Scruggs is a believer.

"Eighteen- to 25-year-olds are generally the folks who are committing the most crime on our transit system," Scruggs said. "As a group, they tend to not like classical music."

Young people quit hanging out at one Portland station "almost immediately" after classical music began playing, Scruggs said.

"We feel, after a year of studying it, that it has some effect," he said.

Transit data show complaints of disorderly conduct, public intoxication, loitering and similar behavior at or near the Lake Street station declined in the summer around the time the series of initiatives began. But complaints edged up at the end of last year.

On a scale of 1-10, Gustafson gave the station environment a 7 or 8 now compared with a 3 for last year.

While the Lake Street station is the only one on the Hiawatha Line with classical music, the strategy has been used over the years elsewhere in Minneapolis. Metro Transit piped it into some bus stops and the city played it at night around the Block E parking lot on Hennepin Avenue to discourage young people from hanging out.

Kaitlyn Walsh contributed to this report. Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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