Crime and Safety

NYC subway deaths skyrocket due to social media insolence

Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reported disturbing news: the number of deaths on subway tracks has risen sharply in 2022 to 88.

This is a little-known element of our post-2020 era of disorder and chaos.

A poorly guarded transportation system poses an acute danger to the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including people suffering from drug addiction and mental illness.

In a functional city, rail transport is the safest form of travel from one place to another.

But, like everything else in New York over the past three years, things went awry. Last year, 88 footprint deaths were 35% higher than the 2018 and 2019 averages of 65 per year.

By comparison, 120 pedestrians were killed in collisions with cars or trucks over the ground last year, close to the average of 121 in 2018 and 2019.

The target underground, just like in the “Vision Zero” traffic control campaign on the ground, should not be deaths.

In fact, it’s amazing how many deaths underground can even start off to compete with the number of deaths above ground where unlicensed and drunk drivers accelerate and make quick turns.

What’s happening? Of the 1,365 known subway accidents in 2022 (most of which did not result in death), about 15% were accidental falls or medical emergencies, according to a new MTA analysis.

Fortunately, a surprisingly low number – less than 10% – were suicides or suicide attempts.

NYC subway deaths skyrocket due to social media insolence
Two teenagers have died in the past four months while participating in a dangerous stunt.
Photo by David Di Delgado/Getty Images

An even smaller percentage were attacks – that is, pushing people onto the rails. (Although with pushbacks to paths of three out of 10 subway homicides last year, a 30-year high, a small percentage is too much.)

In most cases – more than two-thirds – people were on the tracks voluntarily.

In 20% of cases, people were clearly mentally ill (but did not attempt suicide); in another 10% or so, people were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

And in nearly half of all incursions, the MTA or NYPD found that people were just following the trail – going to homeless camps on MTA property, writing graffiti, just… . . wander about.

Two such offenders were graffiti artists from France; they died under a Brooklyn train last April.

And some “accidents” – more and more – are subway surfers.

Two 15-year-old surfers have died in the last four months, and another 15-year-old has lost an arm this year.

This is further evidence that, left to their own devices in public places, too many New Yorkers will behave dangerously — endangering themselves and others.

As Shanifa Riara, the MTA’s chief policy and communications adviser, notes, these deaths are unfortunate for families, but also “blatantly tragic for our train crews.”

NYPD officers patrol the Grand Central subway station on March 30, 2023.
NYPD officers patrol the Grand Central subway station on March 30, 2023.
Robert Miller

The good news is that we know how to fix it and we are to fix this.

The strongest spike in rail intrusions began just over a year ago, from December 2021 to February 2022.

This winter, the number of intrusions on the way has decreased by 30%.

Why? Mostly law enforcement.

In January and February this year, the MTA made 2,065 arrests in the transit system, up two-thirds from last year and comparable to pre-COVID numbers.

Arrests for fare evasion have tripled compared to last year.

Civilian calls, which exceeded 26,000, were more than 80% higher than last year.

Yes, it’s true that severely mentally ill people roaming the New York subway tracks don’t need protection as a long-term solution.

But they need the police to keep them off the subway tracks and thus keep them alive as a short term solution.

Like idiot teenagers.

Just last week the police stopped five teenage subway surfers in an incident in Queens that could potentially prevent a mass tragedy.

Last year, police stopped more than 1,000 people in such incidents.

But this year, Riara says, the trend, driven by social media challenge videos, is gaining momentum — “alarming, escalating and deadly.”

Also last week, police seized three illegal guns from criminals in just four days — one of the reasons violent crime has finally come down after an increase in 2020.

As fresh data from last week shows, the number of violent crimes in the metro in January and February decreased by 17% compared to last year, which is a significant achievement.

The surge in subway police activity that began last fall is not only bringing down crime rates. This keeps the mentally ill, drug addicts, or simply dumb people from hurting themselves by crashing into or falling off subway trains.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor for the City Journal of the Manhattan Institute.

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