Monday, August 29, 2011

Bike trails and crime - The Pinellas Trail

"The homeless man said he believes the trail ought to be closed at night for safety." That's an ominous quote from an unlikely source. It regards a new bike trail winding through a rough part of Seattle called The Jungle.

Concerns about crime near bike trails are not new. Beyond Seattle they have surfaced in Los Angeles, and Virginia Beach.

The takeaway message? There are ways to master bike trail design and ways to botch it.

This blog has shown how proper analysis and design can humanize and insulate urban designs, from ATMs and street furniture to lighting and trails.

Last month I spent time in St. Petersburg, Florida on the Pinellas Trail. It is an award-winning bike/jogging/walking trail that runs 40 miles from Tarpon Springs and Clearwater to St. Petersburg. The trail is 20 years old and I was impressed at the extent, quality, and resources the community invested in making this work.

Along the Pinellas trail you find art, bike shops, and bus stops located nearby for walkers who decide to bus home. Pinellas encourages vendor concessions and adjacent parks with places for wedding photos. In CPTED these are called activity generators.

Parts of it run through downtown St Petersburg, where some crimes do occur. For example about a dozen robberies are reported each year, mostly teens stealing from other teens (but not always).

Consider that a quarter million residents in St Petersburg experience over 1,000 robberies each year, and crime on Pinellas Trail seems remarkably low.

The day I visited there were walkers, joggers and bikers. It has an emergency response system and fairly strict rules (no alcohol, daytime only operation, no headphones permitted while biking).

Here's the question: Do municipalities demand a proper crime analysis, safety consultation and CPTED review before they construct bike/jogging/walking trails? If SafeGrowth planning was part of municipal development, that question would be irrelevant.

11 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

I was biking on the Pinellas trail between Fairmont and Jones in Clearwater and was chased by a large black man in his 20's man who was trying to injure or rob me. I rode fast enough so I escaped. This was December 23, 2011 about 3:30pm . I have also noticed similar black males riding aimlessly on the trail. It appears this is the time of year for opportunistic robbery from visitors. I have also noticed at leased 3 men riding a bike and steering another bike they probably 'just found' laying along the trail. For this and other reasons, I am leaving Florida and will never return. I had planned 5 months which is good for your economy but I am leaving after 2 months. And I will tell all my friends to avoid biking in Florida.

GSaville said...

First, thanks anonymous for commenting on your experience.

Second, you must report your experience to the police. When I say "about a dozen robberies are reported each year" that does not account for the non-reports.

All trails, and all places, have non-reports and of course Pinnellas is no different. We'll never get to the bottom of crime unless we know what's going on. So please, if you haven't already done so, report your incident.

Thank goodness you were not injured though I"m sure the incident has shaken your confidence in bike trails - obviously it has in the Pinnellas Trail and Florida. That is unfortunate since most crime, especially on bike trails, is fairly rare.

Let's hope your experience does not mean Pinnellas is getting worse. If it is, with all the positive design amenities, then that portends a risky future for bike trails everywhere.

Obviously CPTED and SafeGrowth are in need than ever before. Lots of work to do.

Be safe.

Pat and Dawn said...

I was looking around at cycling blogs and thought I'd add some comments, as my wife and I cycled from Clearwater out to the Tarpon Springs and the end of the trail in February 2011. Now we didn't have any problems and from the time we hired the bikes to the end of the day, other than slightly tender posteriors! I'd encourage anyone to enjiys this trail - wwe have yet to do the run south of Clearwater but hope to do so in the future. For now, we are planning a 800 mile ride through France (see Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

I was riding this trail on Friday, February 3, 2012. At around 1:00 PM I was attacked at the St. Petersburg 31st Street junction by two black males. I was able to speed up and outrun them before thay could knock me off my bike. I reported this incident to the police who told me there was a mugging right there about an hour later. The police told me to not ride in this area because of the crime. They said to stay well north of St. Petersburg or you greatly increase your chance of getting robbed or worse. The kicker - I have video of the whole attack which I plan to send to the police.

GSaville said...

I'm glad you were not harmed and that you reported to police. Another submitter didn't report and just left Florida. Police need to know when and where to target their efforts. Clearly, no one, and no place, is immune from crime.

In fact it's surprising a 35 mile trail through major urban areas doesn't create more crime. Especially given the large number of robberies in parts of this region. Rates of robbery there are higher than both the national and state averages. The crime maps below suggest caution.

That's no solace, of course. More obviously needs to be done. I'd like to suggest the police and local municipality implement a SafeGrowth action plan to tackle these trail threats. It would be a shame if scares like this ruin such a nice spot.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a house that has a section of the the Pinellas Trail running just a few yards behind it. So I began to research criminal activity and the Trail.
First, it is my conclusion (after reading everything I could find) that there is no more crime - in fact less - on the Trail as there is anywhere else in Pinellas.
The bottom line is that wherever you are, vigilance is always important. I worked in Cheshire, CT, a wonderfully peaceful, upscale community where one of the most horrific crimes imaginable occurred (,_Connecticut,_home_invasion_murders). These victims were followed home from a grocery store by 2 men who are now sitting on death row.
I would recommend that everyone read this article. "The Truth About Violence"

GSaville said...

Thanks for that story of your house on Pinellas and your conclusion about vigilance. I especially like the reference to The Truth About Violence because it's by Sam Harris. Anything by Harris is worth the read. Well done.

Harris rightly points out the role of vigilance and the incredibly low risk from violence most people face if they use even a modest amount of vigilance.

(PS Sorry about the messy formatting glitches in the "comments" section. It's one of Blogspots weaknesses and out of my control).

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Anonymous said...

My friend has a conceal weapons permit and he carries when we go riding. We never wear headphones and are always aware of anyone that is on the trail. I'd like to say to all the future robbers and thugs out there that if you try to rob us it will likely be your last day on earth.

advChaser said...

I have spent hundreds of hours on the Western part of the Pinellas trail between Clearwater Beach to Tarpon Springs and I have never had a problem or witnessed anyone else having a problem. When I was looking to buy a home in the county, I saw many home for sale ads that emphasized the homes proximity to the Trail. Overall the trail is safe and I support the push to complete the entire loop around the county.