By many measures, New York City is America's safest metropolis. Violent crime has declined 85 percent since 1990, with substantially fewer murders, robberies, and burglaries occurring across the city's five boroughs.
In contrast to this progress, however, dark headlines have emerged about NYC's primary mode of public transportation. Police data suggest a recent surge in violence on the subway, as well as a troubling uptick in sex crimes. Is the Big Apple's storied subway system immune to the improvement seen elsewhere in the city?
To study this question, we analyzed 2017 crime data accessible through NYC's OpenData portal. First, we considered crimes specifically reported to have occurred in public transportation stations (NYPD records this distinction) to discover which crimes occur most often throughout the entire subway system.
Next, we identified which stations witness the most illegal activity. To do so, we indexed the location of all crimes against the location of subway stations across the city, using Metrop. To capture crimes that might affect victims entering or leaving a given station, we recorded criminal activity reported within a 100 feet of each stop. Finally, we looked at which of NYC's busiest stations see the most crime, and which specific subway lines witness the most crimes on a daily basis.
Whether you're one of the subway system's 1.76 billion annual riders or are considering a trip to NYC, you won't want to miss what we've found.
Among crimes committed in subway stations across NYC, grand larceny was the most frequent. This finding likely relates to the definition of grand larceny under New York law: When an item is stolen directly from another person (such as snatching something from a victim's hand or pocket), the offense qualifies as grand larceny no matter the item's value. Criminal mischief was the second most common offense reported on the subway and likely relates to graffiti or other forms of property damage that frequently occur on public transportation. Although subway graffiti has a long and lauded history in NYC, police vigilantly oppose it because of the massive repair costs it can require.
More violent varieties of crimes were also quite common, including assault related crimes, which describes an intentional act of violence. There were also more than 1,000 cases of second-degree harassment, which could entail shoving or kicking someone, or simply following a person and making alarming statements. Sex crimes were reported 651 times as well, a number many attribute to increasingly crowded trains, which present an opportunity for groping and other forms of inappropriate touching.
You may be understandably confused by the presence of forgery among this list of common crimes. Under New York law, using a tampered MetroCard to gain access to the subway system without paying is technically a form of forgery. With impending fare hikes on the horizon, such scams may become even more prevalent in the years to come.
Illegal Activity: In and Around the City's Subways
To assess crime occurring both at subway stops and in their immediate vicinity, we employed two distinct approaches to assessing the data associated with each station. Our first calculation (featured on the left side of the interactive) presents crimes occurring within 100 feet of subway stop locations. This measure should attest to crimes riders might encounter as they exit or enter each stop. Our second calculation (the right side of the interactive) further refines that initial set of crimes, presenting only illegal activity coded as occurring at a public transportation station.
As you explore each facet of the interactive, concentrations of high-crime stops appear in certain parts of the city. The Midtown West and Hell's Kitchen neighborhoods of Manhattan, for example, were home to several stops featuring high rates of crime, including the Times Square, Port Authority, Penn Station, and Herald Square stations. Further north, Harlem had high crime at stops like 110th, 116th, 125th, and 135th streets. Crossing over into the Bronx, the 3rd Avenue and 149th Street and 161st-Yankee Stadium stations bore witness to the most illegal activity.
In Brooklyn, the Dumbo and downtown Brooklyn neighborhoods featured several such stops, such as the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center, Hoyt Street, and Jay Street-MetroTech stations. New York residents will notice a common theme among these high-crime stations: They tend to be high-traffic hubs. Despite significant police scrutiny, it seems many of the subway's busiest stops also attract the most crime.
Top Stops for Crime
When we contrasted crime occurring within stations with crimes taking place directly outside them, we saw some compelling data emerge. A remarkable number of crimes took place around the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station, for example, but none were reported within the subway hub itself. Similarly, the Times Square-42nd Street station had a high rate of crimes reported within 100 feet, but relatively few in the station itself.
Conversely, most of the crimes taking place within 100 feet of the 42nd Street-Port Authority Bus Terminal occurred within the station. That statistic could reflect a surge in crime in the bus station at this location, rather than the subway stop attached to it. Our data do not specify where exactly such crimes occur within large public transportation facilities.
Likewise, most of the crimes occurring at the 3rd Avenue-149th Street stop in the Bronx happened within the station. The Jay St-MetroTech stop in Brooklyn, where a high-profile killing recently occurred on the tracks, followed a similar pattern. At the nearby Borough Hall and Hoyt Street stops, however, virtually all crimes occurred immediately outside the station, rather than inside it.
Risky Rush Hour?
As we noted earlier, many of the stops with the highest rates of crime are also some of the busiest across the city. Using ridership data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), we identified the 10 stops that attract the most traffic and compared their respective crime figures. Each of the 10 busiest stations was located in Manhattan, rather than the outer boroughs.
Of the busiest stations, the top five for crime included three major midtown hubs that commuters use to access the city from the suburbs: Port Authority, Penn Station, and Grand Central. Nearby Herald Square, which ranked third, has played host to several tragic incidents in recent months, including a man allegedly slashing his wife's face and a suicide during morning rush hour. At the fifth-ranked 86th Street and Lexington Avenue stop, anti-Semitic graffiti caused public outrage in 2017.
Broken Laws, by Line
Moving beyond individual stations, we set out to determine which subway lines pass through high-crime locations. To produce our figures, we summed the number of crimes occurring at each station a given line passed through. It's worth noting that these figures refer to the total crimes that occurred throughout a station as a whole, rather than illegal acts taking place on particular platforms.
Logically, lines with only a few stops (such as the 42nd Street Shuttle or "S" train) witness fewer crimes overall according to our methodology. By contrast, many of the lines with the highest daily rates pass through high-crime stations in multiple boroughs. The second-ranked "6" train, for example, passes through high-crime stops in Midtown, the Upper East Side, Harlem, and the Bronx. Similarly, the "2" train moves up Manhattan's West Side, hitting major hubs like Penn Station, Times Square, and Columbus Circle before moving on to the Bronx.
Public Transportation, Personal Protection
Although our findings suggest that crime occurs more frequently in some areas of the subway system than others, it's important to remain vigilant no matter where you're traveling. Keep a secure hold on valuable items at all times while riding the train and remain mindful of your surroundings. If you feel anxious about riding late at night, try getting into the car with the conductor. And if you're waiting on an empty platform, try standing in a well-lit area visible to MTA employees. These common-sense precautions should help you remain protected and manage your trip with minimal concern.
If public transportation doesn't appeal to you, you'll still need to be proactive about protection when you travel. For those who commute by car, America's roads entail their own risks. Keep your vehicle and your loved ones covered with effective auto insurance at an affordable price. AutoInsuranceCenter.com is your source for competitive quotes and the information you need to make a great choice on coverage.
We analyzed 2017 crime data accessible through NYC's OpenData portal. First, we considered crimes specifically reported to have occurred in public transportation stations (NYPD records this distinction) to discover which crimes occur most often throughout the entire subway system.
Next, we identified which stations witness the most illegal activity. To do so, we indexed the location of all crimes against the location of subway stations across the city using Metrop. To capture crimes that might affect victims entering or leaving a given station, we recorded criminal activity reported within a 100 feet of each stop.
Finally, we looked at which of NYC's busiest stations saw the most crime, and which specific subway lines witnessed the most crime on a daily basis.
In many cases, subway stops can be close in proximity and may have crimes overlapping that are counted for two different subway stops in our rankings. Populations of different NYC areas and ridership were not taken into account and, therefore, should not be used to evaluate a particular neighborhood's crime rate.