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