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

Meet the Board - Tina Ufford

Tina is a long time bicycle advocate and former Board Member of Bike Baton Rouge. She practices and teaches many things, including Yoga, Massage and Pottery.

Tina is a long time bicycle advocate and former Board Member of Bike Baton Rouge. She practices and teaches many things, including Yoga, Massage and Pottery.

Who are you and where are you from?  

Tina Ufford Colorado Springs, CO

Why do you love bicycling?  

Outside, gas free, exercise time! It shifts me into thinking about where I am..rather than where I'm going

Why did you join the Bike Baton Rouge board?   

I want to be heard, I want to help create change. I want to funnel frustration into action and help others do the same.

What do you see YOUR role as with Bike Baton Rouge?

Connecting the dots in the networking world, finding new partnerships. Keeping things going when we get stalled or burned out.

What do you do and what are you good at?

I am a healer and a creator, an explorer and an educator. I'm good at giving permission, and making people comfortable.
What would you consider the greatest challenge to bicycling in Baton Rouge?  

Guh! I only get to pick one...? Continuity! From planning to intersections to sidewalks, it's my biggest frustration here. 

What are you and Bike Baton Rouge doing to tackle that challenge?

Creating rides and events that document the experiences of all riders in town. Inclusion. All people, all areas of town. And then pushing for change.

What will bicycling in Baton Rouge look like in 1/5/20 years time? 

Well I'm pretty satisfied with the Dawson's creek path for this year! One little spot by Coyote Blues to smooth out, and we have a real people mover.
5 Years- I hope to see more education for riders and drivers, and for Government St, Eugene St, and Acadian to be slower, smoother, and safer.
20 years when I'm 60, I hope it just looks something like other capital cities as far as biking infrastructure goes. 

What is does your 'ideal' day of bike riding in Baton Rouge look like?

Morning ride to the Farmer's market downtown, lunch on the levee, a pit stop at home, sunset at the Perkins park, Trader Joe's on the way home. Getting groceries on bike is always ideal. 

Anything else you'd like to mention?

I believe our transportation troubles are the biggest reason for amazing people leaving this town. I have been here for over 10 years now, and plan to stay. When I travel to other cities, I realize how far we have to go, and also how easy we have it!! Good weather most of the time, mostly flat terrain, and the parade culture all lend themselves to this being one of my favorite places to ride! I feel that safe easy travel-biking, walking, public transport-makes a strong connected city,where people want to grow roots and bloom! I know that Bike BR is part of that foundation that keeps me here. 

Meet the Board - Part 4 - Mika Torkkola

Mika Torkkola is the current President of Bike Baton Rouge, although he'll tell you he's not really sure how that happened. He'll also tell you that he's not really sure what he does when he's not riding, or thinking about riding, or thinking about getting other people to ride, or thinking about how to ride to the place with the thing, or... you get the idea.

Who are you and where are you from? 

My name is Mika, I arrived in Baton Rouge in 2007 via Texas, having spent most of my life before that in Australia.

Why do you love bicycling? 

Originally I loved bicycling because it was easy. It meant I didn't have to get a driver's license, which was hard work that I wasn't interested in doing. I lived in Australia, where riding a bike was pretty simple - but not as simple as catching a bus or train, which was the main reason I never needed a car. I was in for a shock when I moved to Baton Rouge and found that both the bicycling and transit options were pretty awful. When bicycling became hard, I learned other reasons to love it. It's great for the environment and for your health. It's fun, and it's cheap. But I think most importantly I think when you ride a bike instead of driving you remain a part of your community. You move IN your neighbourhood, rather than THROUGH it, watching life happen through a window. 

Eventually I wisened up and moved to a part of town where bicycling was easy and things have been pretty great since.

Whether I ride or a drive, I typically will be happy when I get home - but when I'm driving I'm happy the trip is over, and when I'm biking I'm just happy.

Why did you join the Bike Baton Rouge board?

I've been involved in biking in Baton Rouge for several years, mostly in organizing bike rides and events. In late 2015, Bike Baton Rouge as an organization had been inactive for some time, and following some long conversations, several friends and fellow bicyclists agreed to volunteer ourselves as board members of Bike Baton Rouge. Bike advocacy amongst our small group was going to be happening anyway, so it seemed like the logical thing that we would be doing so under the Bike Baton Rouge banner.

What do you see YOUR role as with Bike Baton Rouge? What do you do and what are you good at?

If I were to sum up my role with Bike Baton Rouge into one word it would be ENTHUSIASM. All caps. I like to keep things moving. I like seeing wild, far out ideas become reality. I like committing to an idea before we even know what it is and then watching as we somehow pull it off. I like the idea of crossing the bridge when we get to it, but what I like even more is finding out that there is no bridge and that we have to build one to get across.

What would you consider the greatest challenge to bicycling in Baton Rouge?  

The biggest challenge to bicycling in Baton Rouge is us bicyclists ourselves. We can be a miserable bunch. We complain and moan about road conditions and law enforcement and traffic incidents. We rarely celebrate the bicycle, and riding with our friends and the simple joys that a pedal around town can bring. Is it any wonder that people in Baton Rouge thing that bicycling is too dangerous when all they ever hear is about the last person that was hit? 

What are you and Bike Baton Rouge doing to tackle that challenge? 

While we do, of course, have to talk about the bad things from time to time, we're devoting most of our energy into talking about good things. We want to focus on progress, not on history. The #mybikestory hashtag which we rolled out last week was not only successful amongst bicyclists, it was popular amongst non-bicyclists who saw it as a small window into our world and why we choose to ride all-the-goddamn-time. Sometimes subtle things can make big differences, such as our choice to take the 'Change Lanes to Pass' messaging, which evokes feelings of white-knuckle highway riding, off of our new T-Shirts.

What will bicycling in Baton Rouge look like in 1/5/20 years time?

A year from now, bicycling will be subtly different. We'll talk regularly about the good things about bicycling, such as the new Government Street bike lanes and the rapidly progressing Downtown Greenway. Folks who are new to bicycling will choose to live in or near these areas. Property values will begin to increase, and developers and land owners will begin to take notice what bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure means to their bottom line - and to the quality of life to the people who live near them.

In five years, Baton Rouge will be a rapidly growing bicycling city, and people will talk about how they couldn't even imagine a time when people thought biking in Baton Rouge was hard or scary. Bike lanes and trails will pop up all over town, and Baton Rouge will become an attractive destination for young, active families to move to.

In twenty years all of that, as they say, will be history. We'll have world class bike infrastructure, happier and healthier families, and less pollution. We won't be the only ones. We'll be one of hundreds of world class bike friendly cities in the United States, and the bike advocates of 2035 will be fighting to compete with those cities, asking questions like 'Why doesn't this bike trail have more lanes?', saying things like 'You don't need to have cars on this road,' and (hopefully) still choosing to spread the joy and happiness of riding a bicycle despite these (much smaller) obstacles.

What is does your 'ideal' day of bike riding in Baton Rouge look like?  

This is a tough question because my ideal day on a bike is, by it's very nature, entirely unpredictable. What it most likely does contain, however, are several changes of plan, at least one nap, several (very) large meals, stops for liquid refreshments, making friends in unexpected places, attempting to maintain control of my bike while laughing too hard, avoiding sunburn (barely), and finally at the end of the day choosing to take the long route home.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

I tell this to some close friends of mine every now and then, but when I first moved to Baton Rouge I hated it here. I had plans to leave at the first available opportunity. Since becoming involved in bicycling, however - in riding, in advocacy, and just in hanging out with 'bike people' (the best kinds of people), my entire world has changed. Life is good, and it's getting better. There are still moments when I think of those 'dream' bike cities - Portland, Minneapolis, Seattle - and imagine what my life would be like there. The grass will always be greener on the other side, as they say, - but Baton Rouge is my home, and me and my friends helped plant this grass and I'm very, very happy to sit back and watch it grow.

Bike Baton Rouge Board Members (Left to Right) Claire Pittman, Samantha Morgan, Alaric 'Ric' Haag, Kellen Gilbert, Mika Torkkola and Doug Moore   (Photograph by Irene Kato)

Bike Baton Rouge Board Members (Left to Right) Claire Pittman, Samantha Morgan, Alaric 'Ric' Haag, Kellen Gilbert, Mika Torkkola and Doug Moore
(Photograph by Irene Kato)

Meet the Board - Part 1 - Mark Martin

With our new website and memberships launching, we thought we'd introduce Bike Baton Rouge's new (and old) board members who are currently behind the wheel (er, handlebars) of this organization. We're starting this weekly series with the man himself, the godfather of Bike Baton Rouge, outgoing Bike Baton Rouge president and founder of the organization - Mark Martin.

Who are you and where are you from?

I am Mark E. Martin. I was born and raised in Florida a long time ago.

Why do you love bicycling?

As if there were a short answer to that . . . believe it or not, the main reason I love bicycling is the peace and joy it brings me. There are lots of other reasons but that’s the fundamental one.

Why did you join the Bike Baton Rouge board? How long have you served (as a board member or as a volunteer)?

I started what is now Bike Baton Rouge in 2006 with five others. I served as chair-president for a number of years and have been on the board the entire ten years. 

What do you see YOUR role as with Bike Baton Rouge? What do you do and what are you good at?

I tend to see problems and work to resolve them, that’s why I started Bike Baton Rouge. I’m good at talking to people, gathering information, and disseminating it to those who could use the information to move creation of safer streets forward on all levels. I’m also handy with lots of low-level computer applications used to create documents, visuals, and databases.

What would you consider the greatest challenge to bicycling in Baton Rouge?

Wow . . . well . . . primarily a lack of appropriate bicycle-specific infrastructure. Without the infrastructure the city has, in my opinion, nearly reached the peak of ridership, which is largely young males, also known as “riders of choice,” and those who have no alternative, also known as “riders of necessity.” Appropriate, well-constructed, and thoughtfully located bicycle infrastructure will provide a safer environment for riding. That in turn will attract a much wider and larger ridership comprised of those who are currently uncomfortable riding on the street without bicycle-specific infrastructure.

What are you and Bike Baton Rouge doing to tackle that challenge?

We’ve been deeply involved in the governmental agencies that are responsible for creating infrastructure, amending laws, and encouraging others to ride. We’ve been effective in moving bicycling, walking, and sustainable transportation into the mainstream of conversations with these agencies. That, in turn, has brought a greater understanding of the issues to those who were unaware.

What will bicycling in Baton Rouge look like in 1/5/20 years’ time?

My crystal ball is out for polishing but, if I had to predict the future, I’d say a great deal depends on three things: 1) support from political and business leaders; 2) continued funding for projects, and; 3) changes in the way bicycling is seen by those who build infrastructure. We have a mayoral election coming up this fall which will be crucial to continuing forward movement on infrastructure. Funding is tight now and will probably be tighter in the future. Attrition, a very slow process at best, will probably have the greatest effect on the engineers and builders though political support/pressure is a factor.

At the same time, I believe more and more people will want to ride. Demographics will potentially be a major force. We’re already seeing the effects of Baby Boomers aging out, part of which is a desire to live in dense urban settings without the need for daily driving. At the other end of the spectrum, Millennials have a lowest motor vehicle ownership and driver’s license holding levels in fifty years. Both of these forces will, I believe, create a desire for better bicycling infrastructure.

What does your ideal day of bike riding in Baton Rouge look like?

An ideal day of riding would include dry, cool, sunny weather with the least interaction with motor vehicles possible. Throw in a gathering of bike people, some good food, a little beer, and maybe a fire in the backyard pit . . . heaven.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

Ride yer bike!

Bike Baton Rouge Board Members (Left to Right) Claire Pittman, Samantha Morgan, Alaric 'Ric' Haag, Kellen Gilbert, Mika Torkkola and Doug Moore (Photograph by Irene Kato)

Bike Baton Rouge Board Members (Left to Right) Claire Pittman, Samantha Morgan, Alaric 'Ric' Haag, Kellen Gilbert, Mika Torkkola and Doug Moore
(Photograph by Irene Kato)