Sunday, September 9, 2012

The devil is in the details - Bike trails and crime



Rails to Trails Conservatory "Is It Safe" video on bike trail safety

This past week I worked on a bike trail and crime project. Reflecting on my last blog, some old questions resurfaced: What is it about bike trails that trigger fears? Do bike trails suffer crime? Absolutely! Are they a necessary asset for cities? Absolutely!

How can we build bike and walking trails to promote safety?

I've blogged on trails before; Florida's famous Pinellas Trail, Eugene, Oregon's extensive urban bike trails, and BC's Gabriola Island.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy/National Parks Service commissioned a study on bike trail safety in 1998. Unsurprisingly they offer a typical CPTED buffet: trim vegetation, minimizing hiding spaces, lighting, emergency phones, patrols, access for emergency vehicles, and maintenance.

CPTED prescriptions like that are fine. But prescriptions without the diagnosis are like a buffet without vegetables - tasty but not terribly healthy. And none of it guarantees anything.

Crime can and still does happen on bike trails.



Seattle KOMO News 4 newsclip of bike trail through "the Jungle"

What do we actually know? 

In 1987 one of the first-ever studies on bike trail crime reported a remarkably low crime rate near and on bike trails in Eugene, Oregon. It also shocked detractors by reporting increased property values for adjacent trail properties.

A decade later the same results were reported in a study in Omaha, Nebraska and again in 2000 another Rails to Trails study confirmed those results. What all these studies show is less than 5% of all residents living adjacent to trails reported crime or burglary. In the Rails to Trails study only 3% of 373 trails surveyed reported major crimes.

But, as they say, the devil is in the details. There are ways to design bike trails that simply displace troubles from one place to another. The Seattle news video above suggests exactly this problem in a new bike trail running through "the Jungle".

Beelzebub, it seems, has made an appearance.


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