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Subways Are Less Busy and Less Safe


Weather: Not a nice day: Pouring rain, windy and chilly. High in the mid-50s.

Alternate-side parking: Suspended today for Columbus Day.

Credit…Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

Subway cars may be emptier than normal, but that doesn’t mean they’re safer.

As subway ridership plunged to 30 percent of its pre-pandemic level, petty crime dropped, too. Many New Yorkers ditched the subway as the pandemic worsened, fearful of catching the coronavirus on packed train cars.

But those who rely on the subway to commute as the city reopens may have more to fear than the virus: There has been an uptick in violent crimes, including robberies and homicides.

“They shouldn’t feel like they are risking their health, and they should also know they are not risking their life,” Lisa Daglian, executive director of a watchdog group, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the M.T.A., told my colleague Christina Goldbaum.

While the subway is nowhere near as dangerous as it was in the crime-ridden 1970s and 1980s, attacks and vandalism have spiked compared with recent years. Here are some takeaways.

[In New York City’s emptier subways, violent crime is rising.]

Police Department statistics show that the number of reported homicides, rapes, burglaries and robberies in the subway are higher this year than during the same period last year.

So far, six people have been killed in the subway, compared with two up to this point in 2019, one in 2018 and none in 2017. After two rapes last year, five have been reported this year. Robberies have risen by 16 percent. There have been 22 burglaries this year, after five in the same period last year.

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While there are fewer potential victims for petty crime (like pickpocketing), criminals may be emboldened by a lack of witnesses, especially if they’re targeting the only person on a train car or platform.

“It’s a reflection of what’s happening in the city generally, and it’s a reflection of the system having been more empty than we’ve seen it in a long time,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit.

One rider, Sandra Avila, 49, said she has avoided empty cars since a man harassed her and her teenage daughter when they were alone. Though Ms. Avila may feel safer surrounded by more passengers, she still worries about being exposed to the virus.

Transit workers, who have already lost many co-workers to the virus, have been mindful of their personal safety as well. Felony and misdemeanor assaults on transit workers have increased 57 percent so far this year, compared with last year.

Erik Garces, a train conductor, said the violence is “reminiscent of the bad days.” In June, two men tried to kick his cabin door open. Months later, a passenger smashed a glass bottle over his head.

Though police officials note that crime today is not as bad as it was decades ago, transit officials have called for more uniformed police offers to patrol the system, after complaints from riders and workers.

New York City restaurant owners complain of a lack of guidance from the city on propane heaters for outdoor dining. [Eater NY]

A statue of Mother Cabrini, the first American to be canonized as a saint, will be unveiled in Battery Park City. [Gothamist]

A woman is in custody after her baby was found abandoned in a Queens neighborhood. Neighbors thought his cries were a cat meowing. [PIX 11]

The Times’s Jazmine Hughes writes:

Victoria Gruenert went through a sudden, ugly breakup this past spring, so she did what many 20-somethings have done before her: She moved to New York City, eager for a fresh start. But the city she had pictured in her head — a high-paced office life, a jam-packed social calendar, the bustling Manhattan she’d seen on TV — was gone.

Ms. Gruenert forged ahead, despite reports that scores of spooked residents had skipped town. New York had become a global epicenter of the virus, but she, like other new transplants, was determined to make the city home.

“Very few people empathized,” she said. “But there will never be a perfect time to do it, so we might as well just brace ourselves and go right through this.”

Every year, just over 150,000 Americans move to the five boroughs, according to the Department of City Planning. But this spring, public schools had closed, offices had started telling employees to work from home and restaurants had stopped serving indoors. Newcomers had to adjust their expectations for a New York that could be disappointing.

[Even a pandemic couldn’t stop a fresh crop of New Yorkers.]

Many people took the signs of an exodus from the city as an invitation: If New York was really over, rent must be pretty cheap.

“It’s a perfect moment for young people to come to the city,” said Stephanie Diamond, who runs The Listings Project, a listserv of open apartments and work spaces. “It’s definitely easier because of decreased rent and increased vacancies, and there are apartments that are furnished, so you don’t have to move with moving trucks and all of your belongings.”

Emma Boden, 22, moved to the Upper West Side this summer. She said she found a vibrant New York that others could not see.

“I just didn’t believe that New York was dead,” Ms. Boden said.

It’s Monday — let’s hear it for New York.

Dear Diary:

My first piña colada was the summer before seventh grade. My Aunt JoAnne let me sneak a sip of hers on a family vacation.

Thirteen years later, I found myself ordering one on a humid Sunday afternoon at a bar in Williamsburg. The taste of each gulp reminded me of my childhood, and my widening grin began to make my cheeks feel sore.

I stopped grinning when I got back to my Lower East Side apartment and discovered that my front door wouldn’t open.

Without hesitation, I dialed Richard, my super. I’m not sure why I didn’t call one of my two roommates first, but I knew I could depend on Richard regardless of it being a weekend.

He answered his phone immediately.

In what seemed like less than a minute, he was turning onto Ludlow Street in his car. He punched the administrator code into the keypad, and we waited to hear the door click open.

“When was the last time you had a piña colada?” I said.

— Erin Graisser

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