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

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