Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Don't Go There?

ANT Truss, Train Tracks
Got an email from a woman who is about to start cycling to work. It's only a 4 mile commute each way, and she is more than comfortable with the distance. But between her own neighbourhood and her office is an area known to have high crime rates. She is concerned about passing through it, especially on her way home after dark. "I would not walk there alone. How do I know if it's safe to ride my bike?" 

Personally, I feel far more comfortable cycling through questionable neighbourhoods than walking there or waiting for the subway/bus. But overall I live in a decent area. We have occasional shootings and bank robberies here, but none of the places I ride through feel too rough or dangerous. And while I've had a few uncomfortable encounters over the years, the bike allowed me to ride away and avoid serious conflict. Still, in the past I've lived in cities with definite "don't go there" zones. I had not thought of what I would do if I had to commute there by bike. 

What determines whether you consider an area safe for cycling? Do you take special precautions in neighbourhoods that are known for high crime rates, or do you plan your route so as to avoid them altogether? 

87 comments:

  1. I definitely prefer areas that are well lit, but that has just as much to do with increasing my visibility too. I guess the best warning: don't stop (especially if someone is trying to wave you down). http://seattlebikeblog.com/2012/08/01/man-robbed-at-gunpoint-while-biking-to-beacon-hill-bus-stop/

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  2. She shouldn't worry. The bankers on Wall Street are harmless.

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    1. True, they'll only steal your future. They won't touch what's in your pocket today.

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  3. I definitely feel safer cycling than walking. When I'm on a bike by the time someone notices me I could easily be past them and I also have a better shot of out running them.

    I'm pretty comfortable with my current commute which takes me past a large homeless encampment and a couple service providers for the homeless. I don't find them threatening.

    That said, I do avoid higher crime neighborhoods, especially when I'm alone and after dark. My definition of high crime is neighborhoods where they've installed gunshot recognition systems to help police pinpoint crimes as they occur. Yeah, those kinds of neighborhoods. Too bad too, because it keeps me from visiting the Nordstroms outlet.

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  4. Generally, the bad guys are after other bad guys. One risk is getting caught in the crossfire. The best thing is to avoid those areas if you can. Even riding one or two streets over can make a big difference. The best choice is usually the busiest route because there are other people milling around who can come to your aid if something should happen. I would avoid groups of teenagers standing on the corner who might be interested in stealing your bike. Ride past them quickly and do not look at them if you come across a group that looks like trouble. Young punks are easy to put down if you look like you know where you are going. This comes from living many years in Oakland and it is just one perspective.

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  5. This is tough. My strategy as a young man was to ride fast, without lights or stopping for traffic signals. Which in retrospect surely put me at much greater risk than the chance of attack.

    More reasonably I would say:
    - Only go on routes that are heavily traveled. Traffic = people which will prevent nearly all attacks.
    - However, if you are always the only bike you see on that route, maybe rethink. There are those that will target a bike "just for fun" if it's an oddity.
    - Pace yourself to avoid long stops where you are more vulnerable (i.e. slow down when you see a red light up ahead to reduce the stop time, etc.) Moving targets are unattractive.
    - If you find yourself alone at a stop, consider a little minor infraction and blow a light. Most police will accept a woman explaining that they ran a light to avoid being at risk (though they will patronize you that a little lady like you should consider driving.)
    - Zip tie one of those compressed air loud horns to your bars. These are a great response to aggressive comments and will attract a lot of attention if you feel like someone is about to try something on you but don't want to hose every creepy guy down with pepper spray.
    - Think about avoidance strategies beforehand. If someone in a car is hassling you, jump on the sidewalk and ride the other way. It'll be tough for them to follow you. Don't just trudge along hoping they'll go away. And trust your instincts, if something's creeping you out, act on it and get out of the way. Don't ride into areas that aren't lit well enough for you to see 50' - 100' ahead. If you can see someone coming for a few seconds, you have a lot more ways to deal with it.
    - Identify a few "safe havens" along the route. Restaurants open late or anyplace you could head to as a place to get off the road and around people.

    Lastly, I would never tell someone they should ride through an area they feel uncomfortable. But we do all tend to overestimate risks like this. If you're living and working within 2 miles of this "bad area" how bad is it really? Obviously, caveat emptor. There are places I won't ride even though I'm sure it would be fine. Don't need the stress.

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  6. Cycling in Central Baltimore, I feel safe cycling pretty much everywhere, including through gang territory. Basically, cycling makes me feel about 10 times safer. I actually took up utility transportation cycling because I didn't feel safe walking. Muggers and other assailants, more often than not, look for victims on the sidewalks and in the shadows (on my block there has been 3 armed robberies in the past 3 weeks, attributable to it being Christmas, my neighborhood being a sliver of relative perceived affluence and in close proximity to a rough neighborhood, and there currently being a gang war). It's very difficult to assault a cyclist traveling at 12 mph while you're on foot. It takes coordination and teamwork, requires that you trap the cyclist and attack from the front, and I've never once heard of an incident involving a female victim, and I know a lot of women who cycle in my neighborhood alone. My theory for that being so because there's a sense of gamesmanship among youths attacking cyclists, and the male cyclist is thought of as a worthy target, while attacking a female will only get you a girl bike and is thought of as weak. I also wear pepper spray tethered to my wrist, but I haven't had a problem in years. Back to my gamesmanship analogy, a cyclist riding through a bad neighborhood is a healthy bull elephant crossing the savanna, while a pedestrian is more of a solitary gazelle. Sometimes, rarely, the lions will go after the elephant; but more often than not they'll pass it up and target gazelles instead.

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  7. I really like the tips from Maxutility. I think most of them are common - stay in well lit areas, safety in numbers, etc... I had not thought of the air horn - great idea.
    One night when I was biking home through a tough neighborhood in New Haven a bunch of teenagers ran out in the road in front of me chanting "Bike-er, Bike-er". I was scared shitless, but they just let me pass, laughing hilariously as I biked (fast) away.

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  8. I'm stupid, I go there. My wife isn't, she goes there every day. There was a ton of riding the route together, pointing out things, discussing them, before soloing.

    Once a homeless guy took a swipe at me while I was riding. He wasn't totally crazy so there was a kerfuffle. He flagged down a cop; turned out the dude was an informant -- how the hell am I supposed to know that? Cops turned on me. Good cop softened me up for a good long time, in the cold. Bad cop stuck his face in mine, full on intimidation mode. Big speech. When done, he backed off. I returned the favor with a 4 word answer. Never seen such a deflated person.

    Last month a bullet-riddled car used in a drive-by sat next door for days.

    Morals: you never know who the bad guys are or where they'll be.

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    1. Mrs. GR's evening ride report:

      "You got it. You go get them hills!"

      -- Brutha, fist raised in support.

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    2. Hah! I can even hear the voice inflection there.

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  9. I think she should choose a route that she would feel comfortable in with a flat tire at night. If it's a "no" then find a different route. If it's going to be stressful then it's not worth it in my opinion.

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  10. Lots of good advice so far. I would add that a good strategy is to ride your routes during the day and see if you can get a feel for the neighborhoods. You can fine-tune your approach under less stress.
    Mid-mornings are good for this.

    It helps to also have a couple of detours you know will work, and when you do the ride, make sure you vary your route if you can.
    If you pass by the same spot around the same timeframe every day for a week, the denizens notice, for good or ill.

    I too used to live & ride in Oakland, CA during the first crack wars.
    It made me pretty careful of traffic bottlenecks and blind alleys, as well as the usual warning signs.

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  11. I'm not sure anything makes an area unsafe for cycling besides things that increase the odds of a crash. In a year of cycling in Detroit I almost got run down by a car, but very, very rarely felt threatened by anyone on the street. In truth most homeless guys complemented my bike and gave me repair tips, fellow cyclists and all.

    I never took special precautions, I simply kept aware of my surroundings and if something seemed sketchy, I rode faster and to repeat, that was rare.

    Some other places in the US compete with Detroit in toughness, but not many, and if just staying street smart was enough there, it's probably enough anywhere. It's a whole lot easier to have fun on a bike than get in trouble.

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  12. Touching on what Anonymous said about flat tires, if you're going to be riding through rough neighborhoods it's pretty much imperatave that you have bomb proof tires. I mean Marathon Supremes + tire liners bomb proof. Also, have confidence that your other equipment is sound and you're not likely to break down.

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  13. 1. If possible, avoid high-crime or generally sketchy areas.
    2. If not possible, then ride fast as hell through those neighborhoods.

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  14. I also thought Maxutility's tips were very good. All I can think to add, is that you might be able to sanity check claims of neighborhood "badness" against actual reports: https://www.crimereports.com/ You can monkey with the date range and the crime categories to filter out stuff that doesn't matter, like "theft from vehicle" and "burglary" (not a problem for you, right?).

    One thing that's quite surprising is how much crime is associated with cars -- theft from vehicle is a big category.

    Don't forget that you can leverage stereotypes -- if people like to think that cyclists are "poor" because they cannot afford a car, there's no need to correct them. And everywhere I've lived, people have always talked about "that part of town" as if it were world crime central; there's a big difference between the bad part of Oakland (been there, seen the guy walking down the street with the revolver in his hand) and the bad part of Austin (which was pretty weak sauce compared to Houston, never mind Oakland).

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  15. I use to drive cab a few back, and most people don't know how vulnerable they really are in a car. You're tied down in a sitting position, locked into a small space that you can't stand in. Glass can easily be broken with spark plugs . And even more importantly you are more susceptible than you think to schemes, like getting trapped at lights or staged fender benders.


    There use to be an exclusion for sear belt use for taxi drivers here, so that if we were in an armed robbery situation we could exit the auto quickly. And I knew one drive that did just that at a stop light with the car still in drive and the thieves still in the back of the car.

    On a bike, you move quickly and silently so most likely nothing can really be plotted against you. You can traverse areas that aren't possible in a car like sidewalks, lawns, down stairs, over curbs, through gates in fences etc. Granted your bike might not like all the options but most the time you'd be ok in an emergency.

    You can also out maneuver a car as well turning easily 180 or 90 degrees in a near instant.

    For people on foot you should be able to easily out pedal them.

    And if worse comes to worse U locks and bike chains and cables make good weapons in a pinch. Likewise you can actually use your bike sort of like a shield to keep anyone at arms lenght for at least a few seconds.

    Also know you're probably in better shape than they are and can out run most people as well if ditching the bike is necessary.

    But really if someone wants to "get you" they're going to no matter your mode of transportation. And like I said before in many ways a car is worse than being on foot or on a bike.



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    1. "I use to drive cab a few back, and most people don't know how vulnerable they really are in a car."

      .45 in my face same sitch.

      These comments make me feel warm and tingly!

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    2. Anecdotally a woman was shot and killed last night in a different city not far away. It wasn't because she was riding a bike though.

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    3. I'm more worried about reckless or aggressive drivers than I am about guns. I am part of a regular commute group which rides through a crime-ridden neighborhood of East Palo Alto (CA) and while rides go through there every day, I have never heard of an incident. On the other hand, there have been regular incidents with drivers on other roads along the route. So I think considering the net risk, I'd rather be on a lightly traveled road through a slightly sketchy neighborhood than on a busy through-way, especially early morning when things tend to be quiet.

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  16. Use a bike that is not worth stealing or cover up a good bike riding it dirty or cover up the name with something.
    Dress to blend in(dont wear cyclist clothes or bright flashy stuff that will draw attention)
    And ride like you dont care about who is around.
    I ride thru (bad areas) everyday and actually like to, I just enjoy my ride anywhere I am. I am a 15 year kung fu practitioner though so I dont really care if someone tries something. I am much faster than anyone on foot.
    If you do see a few thugs on the corner just keep on the other side of the street, and just keep riding.
    Most of the time the ones you think would mess with you would help you out if you had some trouble.
    KEEP YOUR EYES AND EARS FULLY AWARE.
    I worry more about the people in nice vehicles as many dont care about respecting you on the road.

    Again use your judgment, if you dont feel safe dont do it.

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  17. The only miscreants who have ever given me grief in Chicago are kooks behind the wheel.

    Chicago's north and northwest sides where I do most of my riding are not Detroit. But not Manhattan either.

    Maybe I've just been lucky these past 8 years.

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    1. Even Detroit is not 'Detroit' ! I spent years riding through and around Detroit (the city) before I moved to Chicago's NW side and it's a lot safer to ride around than you seem to think, and I do not refer just to downtown/Cass/Corktown/the riverfront/etc. You should try it sometime - I know lots of people who would love to show you the city by bike! :)

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    2. Honestly I do not have any set impressions of Detroit. Rather, I used it and Manhattan as examples of large urban areas on opposite ends of the crimes per 100k people spectrum.

      My biggest concern cycling first and foremost are car drivers, no matter what their background.

      In that light, despite the very low incidence of violent crime there, I expect the chance of a cyclist being injured or killed by a motorist in Manhattan is much higher than a cyclist becoming a violent crime victim in urban areas with high crime rates.

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    3. OK, I understand you better now. In that regard, Detroit is a very nice place to ride, as there is not a lot of car traffic and people are almost unfailingly friendly.

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    4. Manhattan isn't nearly as dangerous of an environment for cyclists as it was a few years back-- there are excellent protected bike lanes on many of the avenues now, and more being built all the time. That's in addition to the West Side bike path. I took my girlfriend on a tour of Manhattan as her third bike ride on city streets. The infrastructure makes a huge difference.

      Bikeshare is coming soon, too, to put even more bikes on the road.

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  18. "But overall I live in a decent area. We have occasional shootings and bank robberies here, but none of the places I ride through feel too rough or dangerous. "

    you have got to be kidding me?

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    1. Nope. Some degree of this is typical for urban areas. Occasional is much better than constant.

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    2. I don't believe Velouria is referring to drive-by shootings, if that's what you're thinking.

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  19. Generally, you're really safe on a bike, relative to walking. Your correspondent shouldn't worry about it.

    The only time I've known a cyclist to be attacked, it wasn't in the "no go" neighborhood, but in an "up-and-coming" neighborhood (East Liberty, in Pittsburgh, a few years back). For better or worse, people who bike by choice are a pretty visible symbol of gentrification, which doesn't necessarily make the long-time residents happy.

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    1. It's funny, where I'm from things are exactly opposite. Only well-to-do folks can afford their own car, so biking for transport is about on par with busses for gentrification. Unless you're riding an obviously fancy expensive bike.

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  20. High crime area is so subjective. I live in the city in a very economically mixed neighborhood; I'm sure a lot of people wonder if I'm scared to ride home alone from school after dark. Well, I'm not. I'm well lit, I'm wearing shoes that I can move in and I am aware of what is going on around me. I often ride through a dicier neighborhood on my way home and first pedaled through at night with my husband. I feel pretty comfortable but I'm also not the type of person who screems and freezes when someone approaches me in an inappropriate manner. Conveying a lack of confidence is what I consider risky.

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    1. Yes, riding confidently and projecting an image that you are not an easy target helped me in an unexpected situation this week. I also happened to have my fatter tire bike so I took to the grass for a short cut.

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  21. When I first started commuting about a year ago, safety in rough neighborhoods was my (and my husband's) only hesitation. I agree with MaxUtility's suggestions. I'm a relatively small woman, and have always been OK with treading on places I probably shouldn't go to take photos or otherwise explore. Like Velouria, I feel safer on bike than by foot and will "go there" with a couple of caveats:
    1. I am a confident mechanic, which makes me feel better equipped to ride through sparsely populated or more dangerous areas in case of a flat, etc.
    2. I try to avoid iffy neighborhoods when biking alone, but my art studio is located on the edge of one and I am there almost daily. I go the long way home at night, to avoid going through the thick of that neighborhood.
    3. I know my city very well, and can change routes at a moment's notice if I feel threatened.

    When I first started commuting to work, I met up with a friend and we bike pooled through most of the dangerous neighborhood part of the route together the first few times. We discovered that at the times we were going to work and coming home, there was sufficient police presence and little action to speak of, and we discovered the area is not so bad (when riding through it quickly, at least).

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  22. I just ride it. I have a 7.5 mile commute, half of which is through the "bad" part of Fort Wayne. Honestly, I ride right by the apartments that all of my students refer to as "The ghetto" - a place of high crime. The school is surrounded by red on the crime map, but at the same time, all of my students live around there, and by this point, most people know me as the "crazy white guy on a bike."

    If you ride it enough, they'll leave you alone. I've never been harassed and I've driven only three times since August.

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  23. I'd worry most about getting started and locking up my bike. Riding shouldn't be all that bad. The only time I lost a bike to a thief was in a high crime area and the bike was literally grabbed out of my hands. Shouldn't have been off my bike but I was a kid - 13 years old - and didn't know better. Could have been worse.

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  24. The airhorn is a good idea, especially if you can take it off to blare in someone's face (although that should never be necessary). Secondly is bear spray which many people carry for dogs anyway. I'll mention a third one that I didn't see yet and that is any extremely bright light. It works like deer jacking, which, if you don't know, is when you put a very bright light on a deer at night which blinds it and paralyses it. The same works with super bright lights on a bear when camping. If you hear one, turn the light on in it's eyes and it's temporarily blinded. If you're going to be riding at night, get an extremely bright flash light that you can adjust on the handle bars. If someone is threatening you, blind them with the light, spray them when you get close enough, and wake the neighborhood with your fog horn. And if he's in the road, run him down. Don't ride along him and let him pull you off your bike. Run into him and possibly over him. Anyone close enough to be attacked has it coming.

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  25. As with anything prevention is better than cure. Stick with safe routes.

    Incidentally one technique that I use for dogs and have used for people that have acted oddly (threateningly by walking towards me unprovoked) is to cycle directly at them. They usually back off. Do this only if you have no other alternative.

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  26. Some other places in the US compete with Detroit in toughness, but not many, and if just staying street smart was enough there, it's probably enough anywhere. It's a whole lot easier to have fun on a bike than get in trouble.

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  27. I would be tempted to go around. What is the journey length with diversion?

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  28. I would avoid some areas that are known to be more dangerous. However, I have experienced some incidents that could have become dangerous in normally non-dangerous areas. People move in and out of those neighborhoods. Be aware of your surroundings at all times and carry some form of protection. I carry a cyclists pepper spray with me when going longer distances and after an experience in a park, yesterday, I will carry it with me through the holiday season.

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  29. I have a friend who has been mugged twice downtown Indianapolis and my husband has been mugged once down there. In my friend's case, the hospital was involved. My husband got lucky, but my husband is a soldier with skills, but lucky nonetheless only a knife was involved and not a gun. The one thing I would just add to the comments is that crime comes in different forms. There is physical violence or petty theft. Since she is a woman, I do believe there needs to be some understanding of that taken into account as well. In the cases of the muggings I described, the folks were all on drugs/not sane - those not in a sane state of mind choose actions that are unpredictable. Seeing the same person ride by day after day sets a scene for a pattern. They sense a woman, pretty woman, repeatedly coming. They know she is there ... etc. Not trying to be a downer, just a realist. I run a lot and it is often advised to change your routes from time to time. Fortunately for me, my routes are in a safe area and in high visibility areas, but I have a couple locations I avoid. On a bicycle I could obviously get away faster, but that is only a maybe. If a weirdo was stalking my routine route over time, there would be a plan to knock me off the bike. I lived in Germany for many years and while crime happens there too, it is still somewhat of a safer culture in terms of violent crimes. I used to ride my bike all over without ever a worry. Here in the US, I just always feel there needs to be an extra caution. Crime is of a different caliber here, although I know that isn't always viewed. Just my observations from having lived many years now both here and there. As a woman, I always err on the side of caution :)

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    1. You make a good point.

      Unfortunately women have to worry a lot more about a greater range of violent random crime than men not in street gangs.

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    2. My experience, in my city, has shown the opposite to be true. Men on bicycles are occasionally targeted for assault, and the newspapers are pretty good at reporting the incidents, as is word of mouth - I have yet to hear of a single incident involving a lone female ever being assaulted.

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  30. Ask at the bike shop if they have a tire that will run flat. There are some that will do fine for short distances. I have ridden on some tires without harm to the rim or tire. That would not be any 650b. that I know of.
    Also we sell tires that just never puncture. Hard to believe, but true. Ask about them as well and if you remember to pump up to the proper pressure, as long as there not worn out, you will be fine. That said, Long miles are good miles. Take the time to find another route going around questionable areas. You wouldn't cross a highway or a river, so find the appropriate "bridge" to go around sticky spots. After a while it will be like on auto pilot to get home.

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  31. You might feel differently if you had never seen someone pulled off a bike, or someone beaten up while working on a bike, But being on the front line of bicycle sales over the last 40 years I have heard of cases that were in spots that you would never expect. Be safe and not sorry. Keep moving and watching.
    Not to be a spoil sport, but bad things can happen anywhere. For instance, I was stopped by a guy with a billy club in Dover of all places! Plan your escape and ask yourself, What would I do?

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  32. Suggestions-Pepper spray and a pistol in the handlebar bag.

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  33. I smell an economics study on the elasticity of demand for safe bike paths. What is the marginal willingness to pay (in terms of extra miles ridden) to avoid a bad neighborhood?

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    1. Bike paths themselves can be problematic, because they are isolated. The Charles River trail in Boston is generally considered very safe, but I've had scary encounters there in broad daylight. I tend to travel at unconventional times of day as opposed to peak commuting times, and often the trail will be empty. How safe is it, even in the daytime, with all the greenery blocking the path from public view and no witnesses around?

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    2. Yup, two summers ago there were a few robberies by a group of teenage boys on the Schuylkill Trail bike path by the Norristown train station. Consensus is it was visting basketball team at a tournament in Norristown. Guess they needed something to do when they weren't playing. Strange thing is it was in broad daylight when the paths were the most crowded. I wasn't one of their victims and there have have been no problems since but you can certainly be vulnerable on bike paths. Now that its cold and the paths are pretty much empty I feel a little more exposed.

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    3. I never EVER use isolated MUPs or bike paths alone in urban areas except during the early morning hours. I'd much rather ride my bike through the worst neighborhood in America using the street, and frequently do ride through at-risk neighborhoods, but isolated paths, even in nice urban areas, are particularly dangerous. Groups of youths can easily trap a cyclist from the front without being witnessed. The Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Capital Crescent Trail in DC, and the Gwynns Falls Trail in Baltimore are examples with very high assault rates.

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  34. I avoid all places with heavy concentrations of drunk people at night. Entertainment districts, tons of bars, etc. Drunks in the street, being driven (or driving...) around or stumbling out to hail predatory, swerving cabs are the. absolute. worst.

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  35. I grew up right on the edge of the local "don't go there" neighborhood, a hundred thousand acres of open brush on one side and a rundown ville of 2,000 beat-down folks on the other(named ironically enough, "Rancho Allegre", Happy Ranch), guess which one was the "wilderness".

    I think that by perusing the advice above and sifting out what you think is a little too extreme and thinking hard about how to use the rest, you are going to be fine just about all the time. But the times you get in a tough spot are all going to be different and you aren't going to get much warning. Head up, eyes open, speed is life. You are probably up to it. Blessings on you.

    Spindizzy

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  36. The best advice I can think of is that she needs to find other women who commute by bike in her neighborhood and talk with them. Is their a neighborhood (or failing that a city-wide) cycling group in her area? Boston has them in almost every neighborhood.
    What I, as an urban adult male, see as just a poor neighborhood might be seen by others as downright frightening. In the end it it she who needs to e comfortable with her route.
    Mark

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  37. One thing to keep in mind is the comparison between different types of risk. I am not sure that it's actually more dangerous to ride through an area with higher rates of violent crime, for example, than it is to ride through an area with bad traffic problems or distracted drivers. Lots of areas near bars and clubs are not necessarily gang territory, but you might very well stand a better chance of being nailed by a drunk driver in the former than caught in the crossfire in the latter.
    I do feel safer on a bike than I would on foot in a lot of places; if nothing else, I'm in the middle of the street moving faster, rather than on the sidewalk on foot. To the extent that I avoid riding through any particular areas, I try to avoid Allston on Friday nights, or any other area where the drivers are excited to be out on the town, possibly tipsy, on the phone to rendezvous with their friends, etc.

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    1. This is almost exactly how I feel about it. To me the "bad areas" in greater Boston are not the neighbourhoods with occasional shootings, but those with a history of cyclist fatalities. I will not ride my bike through some of those infamous areas, despite their being in "good" neighbourhoods.

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    2. What causes the fatalities?

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    3. There are some very poorly designed intersections with trolley tracks and chaotic traffic patterns in these areas. The latest 2 fatalities resulted from cyclists being hit by an MBTA bus and a large truck.

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    4. True, unsafe does not necessarily mean high crime.

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  38. Seems like a lot of sensible advice. If I had to cycle through an area which spooked me for whatever reasons, carrying pepper spray makes some sense, thought I'm not sure I'd actually use it and what good would it do if a car was chasing me? Like others have said, weird things can happen anywhere, one just has to be careful. Yesterday a man (walking) was approaching me (this was a bike path) who clearly wanted something more than a conversation. He had a bag with a bottle and was probably an aggressive beggar and was not afraid to stop anyone he saw. Knowing what he was about to do, I firmly stared him done and shook my head indicating I would have no part of him. A few blocks away a woman was shot in a parked car and her phone stolen....This in a developed 'safe' and crowded part of town...Who knows. I actually have more real troubles in rural areas at night where car drivers are less friendly, there are long stretches of unlit roads or paths and occasional dogs keep me on the alert.

    Most neighborhoods in my area have police presence and local store front stations scattered about. I'd certainly stop by and ask them questions about assaults in the area and recommendations about traveling via bike through their part of town. Then become very familiar with alternative routes should they be needed.

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  39. As someone who's worked as a prosecutor for almost 30 years, and an active biker, here's my advice:

    1. Check with the local police captain and see what they say (they want to prevent crime more than anyone else
    2. Have a cheap or cheap looking bike\
    3. Have good light
    4. Carry pepper spray and a whistle in a handy place
    5. Please don't carry a gun - it's the best way to make sure you get shot instead of just robbed

    Affordable Luxury

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    1. Totally agree, especially with #5.
      Marshall arts with bike pump, on the other hand...? Or just learn how to twirl it and pat your hand with it like you are very familiar with its alternate uses... No challenge, just confidence.
      *Shocking Surprise* and confidence foils most challenges. It's not how it supposed to roll!

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    2. Phil, that would be "marital" arts...

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    3. Martial, even, unless you use your pump for... no, won't go there.

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  40. What makes you think any place is safe? I've been assaulted twice this season in Winnetka, IL. Look it up if you're not familiar. In theory about the safest spot you could pick. Cycling brings out the nuts.

    People are inherently unpredictable. There are a few things you can know. Drunks are stupid and they will do stupid things. Young men are high on testosterone at all times. Groups of young men (forget any other demographic qualifier) are always dangerous. Yes, I am a man.

    If you've made it this far in life and had no trouble you've had an extraordinary run of luck. When you step out in public space you do not know what will happen. Applies whether you're on a bike or not. Keep moving. Moving targets are harder. Any cyclist watching themself while moving through traffic is more alert and aware and more ready to take action than most. Do something. Do not be a sitting duck. Assailants are basically cowards and stupid and they give up if/when you make their "plan" harder than expected. Move fast enough and their "plan" never gets started.

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  41. Most perpetrators of violent crime are men. A woman on a bicycle is a probable target for violent crime. If she is passing through the same neighborhood at a regular time on a daily or near daily basis it will make it easier to plan and carry out an attack. If a potential perpetrator thinks she is pretty or that she has a nice bike she will almost certainly end up a victim. Even for non-cyclist, a woman on a bicycle is usually sexually evocative to men. Though I am an avid cyclist and bike commuter, if she were my wife or daughter I would be very much opposed to such a commute. I would insist she either find another route or another mode of transport.

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    1. The women & crime issue is not so straightforward. On the one hand, we are more vulnerable to physical violence because we are (on average, all other factors remaining equal, et cetera) physically weaker than men. On the other hand, whether women are more prone to being targeted is culture-dependent. As an undergrad I lived in an urban college neighbourhood that bordered and in some part overlapped with a very dangerous neighbourhood. Regular shootings, drug dealing, racial tension, boarded up houses, the works. As a female, I was safer walking there than my male peers, because I was not perceived as a threat to the gangsters and because they generally liked seeing young college women around. As long as a female student was not rude to them, she was generally safe. Males were much more prone to "just because" types of attacks, including being dragged off bikes at red lights.

      It is not the same everywhere of course. But it is very much area-specific.

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    2. LIving next door to a major university which borders a sketchy area, our crime statistics suggest differently. Top of the list are females, whether single or in groups. All walking to or from campus or around the neighborhoods towards the commercial district. Almost all robberies, about a third at gunpoint. Non of the victims were on bikes. I'm glad you were fortunate but I wouldn't assume this to be true in most places.

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    3. Right, it is area & culture specific. My point is, that it is important to understand how the neighbourhood in question works. The same rules do not apply to all areas equally.

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    4. The physical strength thing is not that important. Don't disadvantage yourself thinking that way. I recently had a 4 on 1 fight, if you can call it that, with kids a third my age and each outweighing me by at least 50 pounds. It started with me being knocked off my bike, laying on the ground, tangled in my bike, my glasses cockeyed, wearing cleats, kids standing over me brandishing big sticks and screaming at me. They lost. I know not a thing about fighting. Never interested me. I do not give up.

      Toughest person I know is a woman 5'5", 115#, in OK shape but nothing remarkable. She works as personal security for an eminent person I cannot name. She doesn't train in martial arts. She fights dirty. She was recently thrown out of a training session at SEAL camp because she was putting all these big guys in hospital. It is not about strength.

      If an assailant says hello with overwhelming force it's over, regardless of how strong you are or aren't. In all other circumstances self-preservation and intelligence win over brute strength.

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  42. I ride thru a fairly rough stretch of the hood by myself once weekly. I've never had a problem. I have had several times with a car full of young males, blarring rap out of the windows pulled alongside me at a stoplight and rolled down the window. I thought, uh oh, but all they just wanted to know how fast was that bike and how far I was riding. I told almost 20 mph (just a mild stretching) and that I was going almost 30 miles they thought that was cool. I have had way more hassle with suburban teenagers driving aggressively, swerving at you, honking, swearing etc.

    Being aware of your surroundings at all times, and being sensible, as in some of above suggestions are what is really needed. Crime is..... not predictable, caution and awareness are your biggest advantage.
    dave in KC

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  43. I ride my bike to get everywhere in New Orleans, one of the most dangerous cities in the country for sure. I just avoid sketchy neighborhoods. This is easy to do here because things change drastically from street to street, not even by neighborhood.

    The one time I did ride through a larger, dangerous neighborhood I hit a roofing staple and it went straight through my kevlar tire. I fixed it and went on my way, VERY thankful it wasn't nighttime. The poor roads filled with debris are the main reason I avoid these neighborhoods now.

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  44. Thank you for posting about this! I just recently started working a closing shift that ends close to midnight, and the route home involves biking through a densely forested park. It has its fair share of transients and I've been borrowing a car to avoid having to go through it that late at night (to avoid that park I'd have to go almost 10 miles out of my way to find another bridge over the river). The ideas and suggestions in these comments have given me a lot to think about.

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  45. Thanks for this post. (Previous writer: "women on bicycles are sexually evocative." Dare I ask how?) I ride in a rural area, and have to worry more about dogs and occasional annoying men in cars -- not much you can do about that, except carry spray, a phone, and be wary. What you describe sounds like a situation you should avoid, and I have been in that situation before. If you ride at a regular hour every day, as one comment noted, you will be more noticed, and can be targeted. You think because you are moving more quickly, that makes you safer, but it is very easy for someone to run out, surprise you, and cause you to lose balance. The bike offers none of the protection offered by a car. If it is an area through which you would not walk alone, do not ride alone. I would take that as a general rule.

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  46. There was a suggestion about a whistle further up. It's illegal here in NY, but to hell with that. Have a whistle. And bear spray. And a very bright headlight. Then don't worry. It is enormously improbable something bad would happen to you. And don't forget to run red lights- for your safety ;-). If threatened, either turn around and cycle away or cycle directly at it. Don't underestimate the impact of getting hit by a bike and bicyclist at 20mph.

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  47. This past spring I was assaulted by a group of men in a car on a busy street at dusk. It didn't end up being a serious ordeal, but it reminded me that one can be cautious to a fault and still be victimized in some way. I came away from the experience with the reminder to never be scared away from what I love doing: riding my bike. The more vigilant cyclists get out and ride, the more eyes and ears are on the roads to deter crime. (Incidentally, I carry a cycling-specific pepper spray velcro'd to my vest.)

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  48. A few years ago there was a series of muggings targeting cyclists along one of my regular routes. A group of men would wait alongside one of the main roads and when a cyclist approached would run out in his path and knock him over. Their main targets were men that appeared drunk and immigrants who the muggers felt were less likely to go to the police.

    This isn't a common thing, even in New Jersey, and they were caught in fairly short order, but it does happen.

    But it also illustrates some of what would-be assailants look for when targeting a cyclist. A bicycle does make you harder to catch, and riding smoothly and reasonably swiftly makes you less attractive (not to mention not being heavily intoxicated, which is a bad idea on a bike anyway).

    I never had any trouble with that particular "gang" (at 6'3", big and sober I wasn't in their target demographic) but I have been approached by shady individuals on lonely stretches of road who "just want to ask you something" or "just want to borrow a quarter," and the only response I ever offer is to accelerate away (the Quarter Guy had a big honkin' stick in his hand, which kind of set of my spider-sense).

    It can be scary at times, but I've been bike commuting on and off since I was a teenager and have only had a few problems, mostly I do seem to be much safer biking.

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  49. Believe it or not, The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi, has several passages in it that give great insights into the perils of the road. It is worth reading for these and it is a great story to boot (psst . . . it is really an allegory about the formation of the Italian nation-state).

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  50. For many years I lived in a city with the highest crime rate/murder rate in Canada. But being Canada the violence is very specific within one community and the rest of the city is boringly safe. I would avoid the really bad area, but never had any problem biking through the just sort of bad area, and didn't even think about it. If it meant taking the long way, so be it. My dad lives in one of the areas and it's fine as long as you mind your business, but has had his car stolen, house broken into, and if he had a bike, it would be gone in seconds flat. He had taken my brother's bike and one of my old bikes from my mom's house(which were meant for when us kids come to visit) in hopes of cycling but both were stolen immediately.
    Biking can be fast and stealth, plus you can get out of an area more quickly than if just on 2 feet.
    I can't imagine the type of american style violence and guns that one may have to negotiate, but there could be a way for the woman to bike around the bad areas by making detours which could add distance and time, as long as it doesn't extend the risk. Or if there is transit, take the bus if they have bike racks.
    A friend of mine lived in a "bad" poor neighbourhood and biked everywhere. She felt safe. But one day some kids decided to smack her on the face with a 2 x4. Not sure if they were targeting cyclists in general, or just random bad luck. They were waiting behind a car and jumped out, hit her and ran. She woke up in ER, luckily damage wasn't so bad. But nobody would talk. Even though she'd lived in the area for some years, nobody would help or speak up about the kids due to police mistrust.

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  51. I live in a rural area, an immediate concern usually is dogs, but it isn't so bad in this twee area. the other concern is men in cars, but cycling for so many years, and almost always alone I have been lucky. The biggest issue for rural areas could be drunk drivers. Where I live people drink alot and they drive even with very tough laws. Almost every week the police report in the paper is full of people caught drunk driving.

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  52. We live on the poor side of town, so if I want to ride, I sort of have to ride in a fairly high crime area. I'll just relate a fun event that we had last week.
    My son & I ride together, he on his skateboard, & I on my bike. As a teen, he is bothered much more by street kids, so I run interference for him. If we see a group on the street ahead, we turn.
    Two boys riding on one bike, were passing us from behind, veered toward my son, pushing him off the road, & passing me, but steering clear, laughing at us. I sped up behind them to give them a little "push back" and while watching me from behind, they ran into a construction marker that was blocking a sink hole in the street. They went into the hole & did an "endo" onto the dirt, and we tootled by them grinning.
    See, sometimes there is justice.

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  53. My experience is that pedestrians are easier to catch than bicyclists; even so it is likely easier to make a 2 mile detour as a bicyclist, so if the woman in question does not actually live in the bad area I would look for a reasonable detour.

    I agree with the comments that this is all very local; in areas I've lived, women have been more careful than men (they are smaller and easier to intimidate). Glad to hear your experience was different.

    AD

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  54. This happened to somebody know (knife vs woman on bike):

    http://www.villasubrosa.net/essays/knife.htm

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  55. I think people are confusing "scary" with "dangerous." Would your correspondent drive through the neighborhood in question? If so, she can bike through it. I wonder how many of the people thinking your correspondent shouldn't ride through a rough area routinely go out on road rides without enough warm layers to avoid hypothermia if they have multiple flats or some other mechanical problem? That seems truly dangerous!

    However, the best advice above was to use the most flat-resistant tires you can find -- but still know how to change a tire quickly!

    Teacherlady

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  56. Arriving a bit late so apologies, but I feel safer cycling even in dodgy areas at night. When I was in London there were some 'gangs' who targeted cyclists, particularly morning commuters. They had worked out that many people carried laptops to work. They would either roll out wheelie bins or throw rubbish bags that would surprise the cyclist or even knock them off their bikes. Another trick was to distract the cyclist by running head on chicken-style while an accomplice would take the panier off (Ortlieb style is easy to steal). Until the police sorted them out, it the general advice was to avoid narrow lane ways and stick to larger roads.

    I've been chased a few times when stopping. I found gearing down before stopping helped as until you build up some speed you are much slower than someone running after you.

    Some 'broken window' style neighbourhood seem dodgier than others but many muggers target people in wealthier, leafier areas: better gear and often less people in the street. I suppose that a bit a of vigilance and luck help as there is magic formula to not being mugged.

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