How can I stay safe in Fruitvale?
April 14, 2015 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Is Fruitvale BART as bad as people keep telling me?

Preface: I spent the last 15 years living in Boston. I know the city like the back of my hand and I know how to avoid trouble. I've lived in fairly rough parts of JP, Lynn and Brockton. In my time there, I had a total of two incidents: 1. My car was broken into. 2. My car was stolen. Otherwise, I lived my life feeling pretty safe and secure.

I just moved to Alameda, CA from Boston. I'm pretty freaked out by the amount of crime in Oakland and in this area in general. I start a new job in San Francisco this week. Ideally, I'll be taking the ferry for the most part, but it won't always fit my schedule, so I'll have to take BART from Fruitvale. I keep reading horror stories about the station. People I've met in Alameda have told me to avoid it at all costs, especially after dark. I'm told to expect to be mugged and attacked. That making eye contact with the wrong people can get you all kinds of fucked up. I'm told that if I resist at all, I will be killed.

I'm pretty scared. I can't avoid taking BART (unless I drive to the city. No.) Are these warnings realistic? What can I do to keep myself safe?
posted by Cat Pie Hurts to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's not great, but it's not that bad. Alameda people live on an island and freak out about Oakland all the time (and what they have told you is slightly preposterous). Take reasonable care if you're walking around in the area, particularly at night, as random street crime does happen, but mostly it's a vibrant area filled mostly with working immigrants and immigrant families that is also rapidly gentrifying. During commute hours it is also filled with white (and non-white) professionals doing the commute thing. But really, don't worry.
posted by vunder at 1:00 PM on April 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

As a white lady I am completely unafraid of spending time at Fruitvale BART. I can't speak to others' experiences, though.
posted by samthemander at 1:05 PM on April 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

Not familiar with that station, but a little Googling suggests that you have to get there by 7:30 AM to get parking, which means it's filled with commuters during commute hours. If it's filled with commuters and you're riding during commute time, my guess is that it's OK.
posted by cnc at 1:06 PM on April 14, 2015

I've walked home (live in Alameda) from Fruitvale BART station several times late at night and never felt unsafe. I have friend that works near there and he walks that route all the time and never had an issue.

If it's a concern for you then ride a bike and use the lockers at the station if you can't bring it to work.

Another option is to take the AC Transit OX to and from the city during the work week. Cheaper than the ferry, slightly more expensive than BART but wifi and comfortable seats.
posted by alamedarchy at 1:10 PM on April 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I always keep my eyes open and my head up on public transportation in the bay area just for normal precautions, but I'm with samthemander on this one. I'm a middle aged white woman: i.e., not a target.
posted by janey47 at 1:11 PM on April 14, 2015

I have never had an issue with any of the Bart stations in Oakland, and I am a white woman who often walks herself home. Depending on where you live in Alameda, you could drive through the tunnel and park over by West Oakland, which also gives the flexibility of additional trains at weird hours. Part of the issue you are running into is asking people from a relatively white and wealthy town how safe they feel at a Bart station that services a lower income neighborhood. Basic street smarts will get you as far as anything else.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 1:11 PM on April 14, 2015 [16 favorites]

What? No. This is irresponsible fear-mongering. I live up the street from Fruitvale Bart, on Fruitvale itself, and I've gotten kind of obsessed with Nob Hill Foods, which is right after the bridge in Alameda. I always laugh going into Alameda, because suddenly everything is extraordinarily white, the cars all become swankier, and everything is highly manicured. Does Oakland have a higher crime rate than Alameda? Sure. But I'm so tired of people being terrified of areas where people of color live, or areas where lower income residents live. Fruitvale is a fun, vibrant, amazing area, and please do not be afraid of it. Use regular street smarts that you would use anywhere, and you'll be fine. Welcome to the bay area, it's unbelievably amazing here!
posted by missmary6 at 1:15 PM on April 14, 2015 [51 favorites]

Also, depending on where your SF destination is, you might look into casual carpool. Once you start your new job, start asking around about commute ideas - there are so many different ways to approach it. As others have mentioned, parking at BART stations can be a major challenge, so that may be a bigger concern than crime.
posted by vunder at 1:17 PM on April 14, 2015

I'm a youngish woman and I travel through the Fruitvale station on foot and bike by myself often, sometimes dressed somewhat immodestly on my way to and from parties, sometimes late at night, and I don't feel particularly unsafe.

That's not to say that there isn't criminal activity around there, because there is. Mostly drugs and prostitution, much more so than theft (there is bike theft, but there's also a monitored Bike Station adjacent to BART where it's safe to leave your bike). But it's not the sort of thing most people traveling through have to worry about.

Stay aware of your surroundings, don't walk around with your cellphone out (because it compromises aforementioned awareness and makes you an easy target for opportunistic theft), and don't engage with anyone who might approach you, and you'll be fine. This is also how to handle every other part of SF or Oakland that people try to scare you away from.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:27 PM on April 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

"Irresponsible fear-mongering" is right on. Random things could happen at random times, anywhere. I've never had any issues at Fruitvale (or in JP or Roxbury for that matter).

If you are hearing this from your new neighbors, ignore (the standard Alameda line on Oakland has always had some overtones). Nod and thank them and then take BART when the ferry doesn't work for you. Also consider Lake Merritt or West Oakland BART, and whichever ferry you are not currently taking (both the Main St and Harbor Bay ferry terminals are technically in Alameda).
posted by quarterframer at 1:33 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm a woman, and I've regularly used the Fruitvale BART station (and walked around the neighborhood) at a variety of hours whenever I visit Oakland (about 3-4 times a year over the last 5-6 years) with absolutely no problems ever, including very early morning and quite late at night.
posted by spindrifter at 1:38 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here are the facts. That link will take you to reports which include crime statistics for all BART stations. At a glance, I would have to say that the odds you will have to deal with a major crime at Fruitvale are less than one in a million. That would make it more likely that you would die during a 150 mile automobile ride in California.
posted by aniola at 1:53 PM on April 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh boy, don't listen to your Alameda neighbors. They probably get all of their news about Oakland and the Fruitvale station from the local TV "news" or urban legends and not from direct experience. Alameda has a well-deserved reputation for being a wealthier, white enclave that's, um, out-of-touch.

If you're accustomed to urban living and you have a good street sense, you'll giggle at yourself once you realize that this worry was unfounded.
posted by quince at 2:03 PM on April 14, 2015

The dangers of Fruitvale Station are for young black men getting killed by BART police. If you have a halfway decent sense of urban safety and pay attention, you'll be fine.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:09 PM on April 14, 2015 [23 favorites]

Are you afraid of black people? If so, avoid Fruitvale BART.

I commute through Fruitvale station on a VERY regular basis. I've NEVER felt scared in the station. It's in a rough neighborhood, yes, and if you park on the street you're likely to get your car broken into, but personal safety? Never been an issue.

I'm honestly more scared that Mr. Mayhem (a 40 year old black man) will get hassled by the cops than anything else.
posted by mollymayhem at 2:12 PM on April 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

I've used Fruitvale BART station for 18 years, always a few times a week, sometimes more frequently. I'm a middle-aged white lady, and the only trouble I've ever had was when the station was shut down by protestors, or when I couldn't get a cab home.

There's often a market at Fruitvale on weekdays, so it's a great place to pick up some nuts or kettle corn. And a new foodie burger place called Half Orange right across the street. Foodie places don't tend to open in places where their customers are going to get mugged regularly.

Or, if you're still afraid, as noted above, take the Transbay bus, which frankly is nicer than BART -- cushy seats and wifi! -- or the casual carpool, which drops you in downtown SF right near the Transbay bus terminal.
posted by suelac at 2:50 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Analysis shows which BART stations have most, least crime (Dec 2014). Slide #2 has the data.
posted by Nelson at 3:28 PM on April 14, 2015

I'm a thirty-year-old white woman and a friend of mine lives right at Fruitvale Station, in the little village there. I used Fruitvale several times over the course of a few days without any issues whatsoever. I didn't find the neighborhood to be rough -- in fact, it appears to be gentrifying at a rapid clip.
posted by woodvine at 4:14 PM on April 14, 2015

One thing about Alameda is that many of the people who live there rely on cars to get around (at least, to get around outside of Alameda) so you have the cultural difference between folks who are used to public transit and folks who are used to traveling from place to place in their own vehicle. A big thing those alarmed folks are worried about is just that public transit exposes you to lots of different types of people. Commuting through Fruitvale Station will be absolutely, totally fine. During commuting hours there is a veritable sea of people in and out of that station.

That said, one note: I have a friend who lives near that BART and when I leave her house late at night (~10 or 11) to walk to the train, I don't like that the BART station feels practically empty and all of the commerce right around the station is closed -- many other BART stations have more foot traffic around them. I live in a much more pedestrian-dense neighborhood and I feel nervous being the only person on the platform. However, my jumpy feeling is not borne out by experience: nothing has ever happened to me or anyone I know at that station except for mildly aggressive catcalling which can happen anywhere.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 4:43 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think sometimes people make a big deal about how dangerous Oakland is to keep people from moving there and making the rents go up even more. I used to live in east Oakland and I took the Bart to Fruitvale all the time, at all hours. I never had any problems. With normal precautions, i.e. not walking home alone and drunk and/or showing off an expensive phone/laptop, you should be fine.

One caveat: If you are parking there, do not leave anything in your car that might be interesting for someone to steal. I wouldn't have anything visible inside the car, period. I've definitely had friends who had their cars broken into there. It's not a frequent thing, but it does happen.
posted by ananci at 4:57 PM on April 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

To give you a sense of the... culture... in Alameda... here is a story from a few years ago about how In-N-Out Burger wanted to open one of its restaurants there but the citizens, including the District Attorney, were gravely concerned about the crime it would attract. From Oakland. Because, burgers.
posted by danny the boy at 5:06 PM on April 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

I spent my elementary school years here and East Oakland, and after living in various parts of SF, Berkeley and Oakland, I have spent the last 7 years living a mile and a half from Fruitvale BART.

I have a higher tolerance than some for "unsafe" neighborhoods, so I know my persepctive is probably different than yours, but I don't think Fruitvale BART is dangerous. Lots of surrounding East Oakland does have a lot of violent crime - Fruitvale BART does not.

You will encounter some homeless people, mentally ill people, young people with attitude, etc. This may take some getting used to if this is unfamiliar. But I have personally never experienced any kind of threats, violence, robbery, at Fruitvale BART, nor have I ever felt fear of any of those things happening there. Although there are muggings occasionally, they are to my knowledge not common.

There are lots of police, BART and OPD, who are visible in the area. There are also a lot of active, open restaurants and businesses, not to mention commuters, families, shoppers, workers - an active outdoor street life that makes the area safe and comfortable.

There's a nice library within the mixed use residential/retail space outside the station, and also a commuter bike station/bike repair shop. There are good burritos, a largely Latino primary healthcare clinic, some non-profits, a nursery school and a high school right there. A block or two away you can find a lot of tasty, immigrant owned restaurants along with other small businesses.

There is a weekly farmers market there and frequent cultural event such as live performances of the local Aztec Dance troupe.

Use your common sense about not texting while you walk, paying attention to your surroundings etc. It's really not that big a deal.

But know also that a certain amount of Oakland's reputation is rooted in historically racist attitudes. Alameda for many years was very white and is still notorious among Oakland African Americans for cops who disproportionately pull over black people, etc. My daughter goes to school with a lot of Alameda kids and in my experience, many of their parents spend zero time in Oakland, so have little knowledge of the realities here, only of what they hear from their likewise uninformed friends.

I applaud you for investigating this issue for yourself instead of just going on what anxious neighbors suggest to you.
posted by latkes at 5:11 PM on April 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

Another point about the violent crime in Oakland - it's primary victims are poor people of color, unfortunately.
posted by latkes at 5:15 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fruitvale BART is safe. I've lived less than a mile away for two years and have been in Oakland for 14 years. I am a non-feminine, non-white, Asian-Spanish-ish woman in my early forties. I would say it's a pretty typical urban commute center.

I actually find Powell St BART in SF to be much rougher than Fruitvale. Fruitvale is mostly commuters and students.

That said, I'd also investigate the transbay buses from Alameda. Bit more comfy ride, though it will take longer. The BART commute is rougher than most these days.
posted by duckus at 5:42 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am a freaking scaredycat in the city and Fruitvale has never bothered me except for the aforementioned BART shooting. You want wiggy BART stations, try the Mission stops or possibly Powell (though mostly it's because everyone gets on at Powell). Just don't go in BART bathrooms for anything because usually there's so much blood smeared in there it looks like someone got murdered.

But that said, your own personal demographics might influence this situation better than mine.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:53 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have no opinion on Fruitvale BART station as I have not ever been in that station. However, I just wanted to mention that you might be able to take AC Transit into the City. My boss takes it from Fremont and prefers it to BART.
posted by radioamy at 8:01 PM on April 14, 2015

People like to be really dramatic about the crime in Oakland, particularly folks who live in Alameda, as it is a little bubble and there is no crime there. Here is the crimemapper for Fruitvale Bart for the past two weeks. You'll note: muggings are not uncommon. So do yourself a favor and don't pull out your iPhone and wave it around. If you are really concerned about getting mugged then take some easy precautions: consider keeping your wallet in a separate pocket from your cash (and give up your cash if mugged), keep your valuables tucked away, don't park your BMW in the commuter lot, don't talk loudly into your phone about all the money you are carrying.

As a general rule in places where I feel a little uncomfortable, if someone approaches me I tend to not make eye contact, and look straight ahead as if I'm really intent on getting somewhere. If someone says something to me, I respond in an agreeable fashion without stopping. If someone tries to stop me to ask me something, I say politely, "sorry, in a rush!" and keep walking.
posted by Toddles at 9:31 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in getting a better understanding for why Fruitvale station, specifically, is a bit of a flashpoint for discussions about race and violence in Oakland, you should read up about Oscar Grant, the young man who was shot and killed by a BART cop there. I haven't seen the actual movie Fruitvale Station, but that wouldn't be a bad place to start getting a better sense of the community you're now living in.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:41 PM on April 14, 2015

Hey, I forgot two special things about Fruitvale BART that you should definitely seek out:

Fresh beignets, and melt-in-your-mouth Churros!
posted by latkes at 6:31 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I actually think their scare stories are pretty racist.
posted by shesbenevolent at 10:07 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've lived in Oakland near Fruitvale for a long time and agree with the answers here. The station is perfectly safe. If anything that whole area is rapidly heading toward gentrification as rent increases spread east of the lake.

I would ignore what people in Alameda say about crime or Oakland in general. To people who live on the island, Oakland looms large in their mythology because it stands in contrast to their idyllic little bubble. Whenever you hear about Alameda it's always in the context of how it's Not Oakland. And by that people usually mean white.
posted by bradbane at 10:27 AM on April 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the responses. I'm really very relieved to read all of this. I'm still trying to figure people out in general in the area. Racism in Boston is pretty overt. Here it seems so scattershot. I suspected there were some "overtones" to what was being said to me. Unfortunately, I found some Alameda message boards last night that were filled with disgusting comments.

And nope. Not afraid of black people, or any other non-Caucasian variety of human. Almost all bad run-ins I've had in my life were with skinheads and drunk white townie types. If I'm afraid of anyone, it's white people!

I took the ferry and bus today (bus smells like bleach and pee). Tomorrow I'll try Fruitvale.

Thanks again!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 2:35 PM on April 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I moved to Boston for a few months many years ago, after living here for my whole life until then, and I was really struck by how different the cultures are, especially regarding the differences around race and cultural responses to race. In general the vibe is just so... different (my gaydar does not work in Boston, for one!)

Unfortunately, one true thing about Oakland and the East Bay broadly is our public services are massively underfunded. AC Transit would be a lot awesomer if it was funded better, and of course since there is a lot of poverty here, all the intense stuff about poverty definitely impacts the bus system.

Good luck with the adjustment, we get used to everything with time!
posted by latkes at 3:02 PM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Never had any problems with Fruitvale BART- if you're public transit aware, the only BART station that might twitch your radar a little bit is Civic Center. (Or at least this is the case for me.)

I would swear the thing behind Alameda is all about property values- "it's all the amenities of Oakland without the crime!!!"
posted by susiswimmer at 8:52 PM on April 15, 2015

Update: I took BART today. It was great! It's so roomy compared to the T in Boston! I caught it at Civic Center, and yeah, there was some sketchiness, but I felt fine. Fruitvale was a-ok, too. Thanks, everyone!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:09 PM on April 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

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