Designing and Operating Safe and Secure Transit Systems: Assessing Current Practices in the United States and Abroad

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Designing and Operating Safe and Secure Transit Systems: Assessing Current Practices in the United States and Abroad


Public transit systems around the world have for decades served as a principal venue for terrorist acts. Today, transit security is widely viewed as an important public policy issue and is a high priority at most large transit systems and at smaller systems operating in large metropolitan areas. Research on transit security in the United States has mushroomed since 9/11; this study is part of that new wave of research. This study contributes to our understanding of transit security by (1) reviewing and synthesizing nearly all previously published research on transit terrorism; (2) conducting detailed case studies of transit systems in London, Madrid, New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C.; (3) interviewing federal officials here in the United States responsible for overseeing transit security and transit industry representatives both here and abroad to learn about efforts to coordinate and finance transit security planning; and (4) surveying 113 of the largest transit operators in the United States. Our major findings include: (1) the threat of transit terrorism is probably not universal—most major attacks in the developed world have been on the largest systems in the largest cities; (2) this asymmetry of risk does not square with fiscal politics that seek to spread security funding among many jurisdictions; (3) transit managers are struggling to balance the costs and (uncertain) benefits of increased security against the costs and (certain) benefits of attracting passengers; (4) coordination and cooperation between security and transit agencies is improving, but far from complete; (5) enlisting passengers in surveillance has benefits, but fearful passengers may stop using public transit; (6) the role of crime prevention through environmental design in security planning is waxing; and (7) given the uncertain effectiveness of antitransit terrorism efforts, the most tangible benefits of increased attention to and spending on transit security may be a reduction in transit-related person and property crimes.



Brian D. Taylor is an associate professor and vice-chair of urban planning, and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles. His research centers on both transportation finance and travel demographics. He has examined the politics of transportation finance, including the influence of finance on the development of metropolitan freeway systems, and the effect of public transit subsidy programs on both system performance and social equity. His research on the demographics of travel behavior have emphasized access-deprived populations, including women, racial-ethnic minorities, the disabled, and the poor. Dr. Taylor’s work in this area has also explored the relationships between transportation and urban form, with a focus on commuting and employment access for low-wage workers. Prior to coming to UCLA in 1994, he was an assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and before that, he served as a transportation analyst with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in Oakland, California. Dr. Taylor teaches courses in transportation policy, and planning and research design.


Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris is professor and chair of the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA. She holds a doctorate in urban planning and master's degrees in architecture and urban planning, all from the University of Southern California. Her area of specialization is urban design, and physical and land use planning. She has published extensively on issues of downtown development, inner-city revitalization, transit-oriented design and transit safety, and parks and open spaces. Recent and ongoing projects have been funded by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), California Policy Research Center, the National Endowment for the Arts, Poverty and Race Research Action Council, the John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation, and the Mineta Transportation Institute.

Dr. Loukaitou-Sideris has served as a consultant to the Transportation Research Board, Federal Highway Administration, Southern California Association of Governments, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, South Bay Cities Council of Government, Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the government of Greece, and many municipal governments on issues of urban design, land use, and transportation. She is also the coauthor of Urban Design Downtown: Poetics and Politics of Form, published by the University of California Press in 1998.


Robin Liggett holds a joint appointment between the Department of Architecture and Urban Design and the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA, where she teaches courses in quantitative methods and computer applications. Her research emphasis on the development of interactive computer graphic aids for design and decision-making has focused on algorithms for optimal space allocation in the facilities management field, and on methods of parametric design.

Dr. Liggett has recently collaborated with Dr. Loukaitou-Sideris on a number of studies investigating the effects of the built environment on transit crime. She received her MA and PhD in operations research from the UCLA Graduate School of Management.


Camille N.Y. Fink is a PhD student in the UCLA Department of Urban Planning. Her interests include transportation safety and security; transportation equity; race, gender, and the built environment; and ethnographic methods. Before returning to graduate school, she worked in radio broadcasting and for a homeless advocacy coalition in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has a BA in sociology from the University of California at Davis, and an MA in urban planning from UCLA.


Martin Wachs is director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also holds faculty appointments as professor of city and regional planning, and as Carlson Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Dr. Wachs holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the City University of New York, and MS and PhD degrees in transportation planning from the civil engineering department at Northwestern University. He was an assistant professor at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. From 1971 through 1996, he was professor of urban planning and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA, where he served three times as head of the urban planning program. He has served as a visiting professor at Oxford University, Rutgers University, the University of Iowa, and the Technion.

Dr. Wachs is the author or editor of four books, and has written over 130 published articles on transportation planning and policy, including the transportation needs of elderly and handicapped people, fare and subsidy policies in urban transportation, the problem of crime in public transit systems, and methods for the evaluation of alternative transportation projects. He has also performed historical studies of the relationship between transportation investments and urban form in the early part of the twentieth century, and on ethics in planning and forecasting. Recently, his writings have dealt with the relationship between transportation, air quality and land use, and transportation finance, as well as transit labor and contracting issues.

Dr. Wachs served as chairman of the executive committee of the Transportation Research Board during the year 2000, and was a member of the California Commission on Transportation Investment, to which he was appointed by Governor Pete Wilson. He is currently a member of the advisory committee on research and development for Caltrans, and was the first chair of the advisory panel for the Travel Model Improvement Program of the United States Department of Transportation.


Ellen Cavanagh is a graduate student researcher in city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley. As senior advocate at Transportation Alternatives in New York City, Cavanagh participated in a number of post-9/11 community and interagency reconstruction task forces. Her research and advocacy in this area centered on the design of perimeter security for critical infrastructure in locations with heavy pedestrian flows.


Christopher Cherry is a PhD student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests include transportation security, transportation policy and planning, transportation in developing countries, and intelligent transportation systems. He has a BS and MS in civil engineering, with an emphasis in transportation, from the University of Arizona. He has worked for several transportation engineering design consultants throughout his studies.


Peter J. Haas is currently education director for the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), a research and education organization located at San José State University (SJSU). Haas earned his doctorate in the field of public policy and public administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1985, and has taught at the University of North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and SJSU, where he is also a member of the political science and public administration program faculty.

Dr. Haas is the author of many publications, including a coauthored textbook on policy analysis and program evaluation, and a host of professional and scholarly journal articles. He has directed several research projects on transportation for MTI, including a series of studies of local transportation tax initiative campaigns that have attracted national attention. He frequently serves as a panelist at the annual Transportation Cooperative Research Board program, and has made several presentations at the annual Transportation Research Board conference in Washington, D.C.

He was recently awarded a senior specialist grant from the Fulbright Foundation to teach and study in Latvia. As education director for MTI, Dr. Haas administers a statewide program that prepares transportation professionals for upper-level management and executive positions throughout the transportation industry.

November 2005
Building materials
Case studies
Chemical attack
Public transit
Safety and security



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