The misunderstood link between bike lanes, sidewalks, and crime

Gated road access as Tiger Manor Apartments

Gated road access as Tiger Manor Apartments

This post is a new one in a series of personal musings from our Bike Baton Rouge board members.

In June, Bike Baton Rouge was invited to volunteer with an AARP led survey of the Ardenwood, Melrose and Bernard Terrace neighbourhoods. For two hours on a Saturday morning we walked from door to door, asking residents for their opinion on transportation in Baton Rouge. Most of the respondents we spoke to supported more sidewalks, bike lanes, and public transportation facilities - why wouldn't they? - but a handful did not. Their reason? The belief that those facilities will increase crime in their neighbourhoods by giving easier access to would-be criminals.

Fear of crime is a common theme amongst people and organizations resisting bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Last week, it was reported that the Stanford Oaks Property Owners Association plans to install a gate across a sidewalk that is currently accessible to the public, citing, amongst other reasons, fear of criminal access. Residents of Glenmore Ave mentioned crime when speaking about their desire to remove bicycle lanes in 2015, and a few years before that, Tiger Manor Apartments by LSU closed off a popular pedestrian and bicycle cut-through on July Street for similar reasons. 

(To be clear, the Stanford Oaks and Tiger Manor closures both occurred legally on private property. We don't argue against their right to make those closures - just their reasons for doing so. And as for how private interests can control public thoroughfares? That's another story entirely...)

Amongst some people, there is clearly a belief that bike lanes, sidewalks, and other facilities will lead to increased crime rates, lower property values, and less pleasant neighbourhoods. Let's see if there's any merit to this idea - and how neighbourhoods might actually benefit from the improved access that bicycle and pedestrian facilities provide.

First, we'll examine how the phenomenon of 'natural' surveillance actually reduces crime in neighbourhoods with increased bicycle and pedestrian access. From wikipedia : 

"Research into criminal behavior demonstrates that the decision to offend or not to offend is more influenced by cues to the perceived risk of being caught than by cues to reward or ease of entry. Consistent with this research CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) based strategies emphasize enhancing the perceived risk of detection and apprehension.

Natural surveillance limits the opportunity for crime by taking steps to increase the perception that people can be seen. Natural surveillance occurs by designing the placement of physical features, activities and people in such a way as to maximize visibility and foster positive social interaction. Potential offenders feel increased scrutiny and perceive few escape routes. Natural surveillance is typically free of cost, however its effectiveness to deter crime varies with the individual offender."

Natural surveillance is sometimes summed up with the phrase 'eyes on the street'. The more 'eyes on the street', the less likely a potential criminal will be to offend. In this context, it is clear that an active bicycle facility or sidewalk, with bicyclists, runners, children, dog-walkers, and more - will increase the number of community members providing natural surveillance - and actually decrease crime, as shown in this study of US bike trails by the Federal Highway Administrationthis study of bicycling in Amsterdam and this report by the Government of Queensland, Australia.

Second, we'll examine the effect of bicycle infrastructure on property values. A study by the North Carolina Department of Transportation estimated that properties in proximity to bike trails (one quarter mile) experience an increase in land value of four to seven per cent as a result of the addition of the bike trail, while the Delaware Center for Transportation completed a similar study and found a similar rate of four per cent. Younger people, in particular, value increased transportation options highly :

"In fact, the more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly a small town is, the more desirable it will be for potential buyers and renters, experts say. And the more likely real estate prices are to rise, particularly when those brand-new subdivisions and fancy new condos come online."

Clearly, home buyers value being close to bicycle infrastructure. Tyler Hicks, of the Capital Heights Neighbourhood Association, notes one example of a property that more than doubled in value in the nine years since the Capital Heights bike lane was installed.

Third, even a cursory examination of potential bicycle / pedestrian accessibility changes will find the following - that anybody who might otherwise walk or bike in that neighbourhood will, if that option disappears, be forced to walk or bike further or to choose an alternative mode of transportation - often driving. In a city beset by traffic complaints, it seems obvious that denying someone the opportunity to travel by means other than a car is likely to increase traffic, and to deny that person the myriad of health and social benefits that come for bicycling or walking.

Both the New York City Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration publish data supporting the conclusion that bicycle infrastructure reduces traffic. Or, as Bike Athens puts it : Hate Traffic? Support Bike Lanes! (or sidewalks)

Finally, and less quantifiably, welcoming people into your neighbourhood is, well, being a good neighbour.

Baton Rouge endured a horrific 2016, with racial relations strained following the shootings of Alton Sterling and officers Brad Garafola, Matthew Gerald, and Montrell Jackson. Residents of Baton Rouge would do well to invite, rather than repel, folks into their neighbourhoods - particularly folks who might look, and get around, a little differently than they do.

That's the measure of a true community.

Mika Torkkola
Bike Baton Rouge President

Want to help make Baton Rouge a better place to bike and walk? Become a Bike Baton Rouge member and support our efforts!

Who pays for transportation improvements - and what are they paying for?

This post is a new one in a series of personal musings from our Bike Baton Rouge board members. First up, Vice President, Doug Moore.

Transportation woes and how to fund solutions to them are a near continuous theme in Baton Rouge. Task forces and committees comprised of lots of powerful people are probably in a conference room discussing it right now. So far, what these good folks have been able to come up with is: we need to spend more money to make it easier to drive. However, as the recent and predictable failures of the proposed gas tax increase and the Green Light Plan II millage proposal have made it clear - people don’t want to pay for it. J.R. Ball’s recent column in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report hits the nail on the head when it comes to our city’s general unwillingness to do what it takes to solve this particular problem.  

One can hardly blame someone living in a rural parish, which is what most of Louisiana is, for not wanting to pay higher gas prices just so people can drive faster through Baton Rouge. Besides, it would take billions of dollars to build all the megaprojects people want in BR. That’s a lot of money and many years of headache-inducing construction before any of the promised relief would materialize. Considering it’s taken the better part of a year to replace a still not completed two lane bridge over a canal at Claycut Rd., can you imagine how long it’d take to span the widest river in the country again or to turn Airline Highway into an expressway? And then what? People are able to drive through Baton Rouge in 5 or 10 fewer minutes? At least until the law of induced demand sees that extra capacity disappear in a matter of months.

That’s a hefty price tag for such an uncertain and miniscule reward.  

That brings me to my point. One of the most frustrating things for me as a bike advocate is when I encounter people who say that it is too expensive and impractical to build a decent bike/pedestrian network in this city. These are usually the same folks who are clamoring for bypass loops, bridges, widenings, BUMPs, etc. This is when I think to myself, “Who’s really being impractical here?” One of my favorite stats to cite is for half of what it would cost to widen I-10 from the “new” bridge to the I-10/I-12 split (that’s $100 million, by the way, assuming no cost overruns), Baton Rouge could build a bike/pedestrian network that would rival any in the U.S. But….we can’t. Because it’s too expensive. And not practical. Ugh….  

On a more positive note, many city officials and leaders are starting to realize that there will always be people who either cannot or choose not to drive, and that the percentage of such people is likely to increase over the years - and that these folks deserve to have as safe and enjoyable an experience on our roads as does everyone in a motor vehicle. Though many transportation engineers are loath to admit, safety and mobility go hand-in-hand. Slowly but surely, some who control the levers of power are starting to realize you can’t solve traffic congestion with driving (we know, we've met them!). And even those that have yet to come around have realized you can’t build megaprojects without new taxes, which people aren’t willing to pay anyway. Hopefully, we’ll see these two camps come together and realize their common solution, one that is cheaper and actually attainable, has been staring them in the face the whole time.

P.S.  After I wrote this post, I learned Mayor Broome has unveiled a new tax proposal aimed at road improvements. I'm very curious to see what it contains and how the public will react...though I suspect I already know.

Doug Moore,
Bike Baton Rouge Vice President

Riding in Baton Rouge - A note on riding on sidewalks

Cranksgiving 2015

Cranksgiving 2015

Can you ride on a sidewalk in Baton Rouge? And should you?

Louisiana state law does not prohibit riding a bicycle on a sidewalk. City ordinance, however, restricts riding on sidewalks in 'business districts', which are defined by Louisiana state law as "... territory contiguous to and including a highway when within any six hundred feet along such highway there are buildings in use for business or industrial purposes, including but not limited to hotels, banks, or office buildings, railroad stations and public buildings which occupy at least three hundred feet frontage on one side or three hundred feet collectively on both sides of the highway."

Uh. What?

We read it a handful of times and managed to condense it down into something a little more manageable. A sidewalk counts as being in a business district when there are a total of 300 feet or more of public or business buildings on either side of the road within a 600 foot length of that road. If you don't have a tape measure with you while riding, then as a rule of thumb, if 25% or more of the roadway is lined with public or business buildings, you're probably in a 'business district'.

Here are a few examples from around Baton Rouge for what these kinds of areas look like.

Business Districts :

3rd Street (1200 feet of public business or business buildings)
Highland Road (900 feet of public or business buildings)
South Boulevard (350 feet of public or business buildings)

Not Business Districts :

Perkins Road (150 feet of public or business buildings)
Jefferson Highway (0 feet of public or business buildings)
 

What does all that mean?

In 'business districts', riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal. Period. Outside of business districts, riding on the sidewalk is legal as long as it's not otherwise signed, and as long as bicyclists yield the right of way to pedestrians and gives audible signals before overtaking and passing such pedestrian. (Note that in this context, letting pedestrians know you're about to pass them is not only mandatory - it's good manners, too!)

If you ARE going to ride on the sidewalk, then there are a couple of other things to consider. The main one is driveways. Drivers who are pulling out of driveways that cross sidewalks expect to encounter pedestrians, who are likely travelling at no more than three miles per hour. If you're pedaling along at ten miles per hour, or more, then you're outside of the area that a driver may look - and could end up being hit as the driver pulls out. You're even more likely to be hit if you're riding on the sidewalk against traffic (on the 'left' side of the road), as drivers will be looking towards traffic to their left as you're approaching from their right.

Take note, also, of the sidewalk condition - which often may be bumpy, cracked, or otherwise hazardous.

If you're riding on the sidewalk use caution at all driveways, and assume that drivers will NOT see you - particularly if you're riding against traffic.
 

When do I have to ride on the sidewalk?

Never! If a sidewalk exists outside of a business district, then if you choose to ride on it, by all means have at it! But you're just as welcome to ride on the road.

Louisiana law does not make use of sidewalks, bike lanes, shoulders, or separated bike paths mandatory at any time, but Baton Rouge city ordinance states that 'Whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway'.  Note the inclusion of the word 'usable'. If the path is blocked, in a state of disrepair, in any way substandard to the roadway, or otherwise 'unusable' - then you may ride in the roadway if you so choose.

We would argue that given a) the state of sidewalks in Baton Rouge, b) the connectivity of sidewalks in Baton Rouge, and c) the inherent danger of riding on sidewalks as described above, that all sidewalks in Baton Rouge could be argued to be 'unusable' in this context.

(Edit made to the above passage on 4/14/17)

As always, if you're having trouble getting around by bike safely and easily - check out our bike map for the best routes in Baton Rouge!

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NOTE : We're not lawyers. We're not legal experts. Sometimes we don't wear pants while we're writing this stuff. Don't take our word (or anyone else's word) for anything. Read the law yourself so that you can be well informed!

PRESS RELEASE : Bike Baton Rouge announce winners of annual Mike Bitton Awards

Bike Baton Rouge announce winners of annual Mike Bitton Awards
4/11/16, Baton Rouge, LA

Bike Baton Rouge today announced the recipients of the annual Mike Bitton Awards that recognize community members who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to make Baton Rouge a better place to bike. The Mike Bitton Awards are named after former LSU student Mike Bitton, who became a spokesperson and advocate for bicycle safety and awareness following a hit and run crash on River Road that left Mike with life threatening injuries.

Award recipients will include Gabby Loubiere Higgins of Brew Ha-Ha, who will be awarded the Bike Friendly Business Award for her long time support of bicycling in Baton Rouge; Kathy Stites and the BREC Capital Area Pathways Project, who will receive the Bike Friendly Professional Award for their leading the way in design and installation of bicycle facilities throughout Baton Rouge; and finally Larry Reilly, former board member and long time volunteer for Bike Baton Rouge, who will be awarded the Mike Bitton Award for his services to bicycling in Baton Rouge, including running the Bicycling BR bike calendar, leading advocacy efforts to create the Dawson Creek bike trail, and more.

“Mr. Reilly is an unsung hero,” said Doug Moore, Bike Baton Rouge Vice President. “His advocacy in helping make the Pennington trails a reality and his civic engagement in general make him an outstanding recipient, and he's a role model for those of us fortunate enough to know him and work with him."

The award ceremony will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday April 19 at WHYR Community Radio (1623 Main Street). Bike Baton Rouge members, non-members and the general public are invited to join Bike Baton Rouge and our award recipients for some fun, food and festivities. More details about the ceremony are available on Facebook.

For more information, visit bikebr.org, look up Bike Baton Rouge on facebook, or email Bike Baton Rouge at bikebatonrouge@gmail.com

Mika Torkkola
225 571 2906
bikebatonrouge@gmail.com

Bike Baton Rouge is a local non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization and has been dedicated to making bicycling trips in Baton Rouge safer and more enjoyable since 2006.
 

2016 winners (left to right) Gilles Morin, Beaux Jones, Juan Cruz and Dave Cano

PRESS RELEASE : Bike Baton Rouge promotes spring bike safety with tips for motorists and bicyclists

Bike Baton Rouge promotes spring bike safety with tips for motorists and bicyclists
3/21/17, Baton Rouge, LA

Bike Baton Rouge, a local non-profit bicycle advocacy organization, today released a short list of bike safety tips which they hope will result in increased safety amongst bicyclists and motorists sharing the road. Spring sees greatly increased bicycling as the warmer weather and extended evening daylight hours allow for more people to bicycle after work or school.

The last two weeks have seen several bicyclists and pedestrians involved in motor vehicle crashes in Baton Rouge, particularly along Florida Boulevard - a road, that Bike Baton Rouge notes, has no bicycle or pedestrian facilities on a near eleven mile stretch between North 19th Street and the East Baton Rouge Parish border at the Amite river.

Louisiana ranks third in the nation for adult bicycling deaths after Delaware (second) and Florida (first) according to a 2015 study by the Center for Disease Control, but Torkkola says that Louisiana rankings will improve as both bicyclists and motorists become more accustomed to the increased numbers of people riding bicycles in the state.

“We wanted to keep things really simple with our safety tips to give maximum impact from a small and easily digestible amount of information.” said Mika Torkkola, Bike Baton Rouge President, “And we wanted to acknowledge that both bicyclists and motorists have the responsibility to avoid causing crashes on our roads.”

The complete set of Spring Safety Tip graphics are available at bikebr.org/safety, and include tips for both bicyclists and motorists, complete with statistics that show the resulting safety increases associated with correctly following each tip. Each safety tip is based on Louisiana road law.

Read the full list of Spring Safety Tips and learn more about bicycle safety at bikebr.org/safety

Mika Torkkola
225 571 2906
bikebatonrouge@gmail.com

Bike Baton Rouge is a local non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization and has been dedicated to making bicycling trips in Baton Rouge safer and more enjoyable since 2006.