Safety and Security Concerns

I’ve mentioned before that I live a couple of blocks from Elizabeth, a blogger at BikeCommuters.Com. We met by chance last winter on our way home from work in the dark and freezing cold. I was waiting at a light and when it turned green I told her to go ahead because she would be faster than me. I managed to stay with her about half way home and we chatted a bit before she dropped me and Oma :)

Elizabeth and Me

Elizabeth and Me

We met up last night for a beer (or two) in our neighborhood, and she had just attended a focus group discussion on women’s safety and security issues with bicycling and walking. I wanted to participate, but had a scheduling conflict. Elizabeth gave me her discussion guide print out and I thought I’d post some of the questions here to see what you all think. The focus group was women-specific, but I’m interested in hearing from everyone.

How safe do you feel in your residential neighborhood? Is it a comfort level that allows you to bicycle and walk at any time of day of if you chose to?

What are some of the things that influence your decision to bicycle or not to bicycle?

What do you see as major safety and security concerns?

My thoughts: I feel very safe in my residential neighborhood. Chicago is a big city and I’m sure lots of people don’t cycle for fear of crime, but I’m privileged enough to live in a fairly affluent neighborhood on the north side. Still, I don’t walk alone after dark.  I feel much less vulnerable on my bike, so I will cycle alone after dark, but not later than midnight or so. I hate taking public transit alone at night – I don’t feel that the el trains have enough security. Overall, my major safety concerns deal a lot more with traffic (drunk drivers, dooring) than with crime.

How about you?

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28 thoughts on “Safety and Security Concerns

  1. Cathy says:

    I actually love cycling at night. The streets around me are empty–I have the road to myself, mostly. I’ll take public transit at night, walk home from the station at night. I do feel less vulnerable on my bike, but that’s a recent addition to my transportation portfolio. I haven’t lived in bad neighborhoods (except for during college, when I was 21 and invincible), and honestly, the only crime that happened to me happened on my residential street during the day.
    On my bike I feel more vulnerable, more of a target, during the day, when all the aggressive local drivers are out.

  2. dukiebiddle says:

    Not a female, but… I live in an area of Baltimore with a fairly high mugging rate, or at least higher than I’m happy with. I think safety was the largest factor influencing my decision 3 years ago to get a bike and start riding again for the first time since my tweens. Coming home late at night from friend’s places, sometimes an 8 or 9 block walk, I felt like rodent scurrying from bush to bush. 9 times out of 10, the danger of a p.m. assault comes from behind. 9 times out of 10, assaults occur on the sidewalk next to an alleyway. I wanted to go faster than the assailants and I wanted to be in the street. I have no fear from assaults as long as I’m on my bike. Traffic, I suppose, is another story, but except for weekend nights, a contributing factor to the high mugging rate is the minimal street traffic at night.

    Also, I will not stand idle at a bus or light rail stop late at night, similarly to your el issue. Standing still feels like attempted suicide to me.

    • While in college, a friend of mine got robbed while riding his bike. He was cycling through an unknown neighborhood, and a gang of young men blocked the street and dragged him off his bike, taking his bike and money. That was in Philadelphia.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        Yeesh. Luckily, there are no teenagers in my neighborhood, which helps. Almost everyone is either youngish or gay. Although the neighborhood is sandwiched in between 2 blighted neighborhoods. Lone muggers swoop in and target my neighborhood. Groups of dangerous teens, luckily, don’t. I do avoid neighborhoods where one is likely to come across bored, under-parented teenagers.

  3. > I feel very safe in my residential neighborhood….
    > Still, I don’t walk alone after dark.

    I think this is very revealing of what we even consider “safe” in the US today. When I discuss safety with my colleagues in the EU, they think it unacceptable to be afraid to walk alone at night in one’s neighborhood in a developed country — whereas in the US it is almost the norm, unless one lives in an unusually quaint and wholesome place. Going back and forth between Europe and the US, this difference in standards is very noticeable.

    In Boston, we live a 10 minute walk from the Harvard campus, which is full of students at all times of the night and has a campus police presence. Walking in that area is considered very safe, though violent crimes still happen. In the other direction from our house lies the rougher area of Somerville, and I do not walk there after dark, or even much during the day. My cycling experiences in these areas reflects this distinction as well: it’s pretty good around the Harvard campus and even on busy roads I have not yet gotten yelled at or had a close call. On the other hand, every time I’ve had to cycle through Somerville, I feel battered and emotionally exhausted by the time it is over — the cars drive too fast and too close to cyclists, pull out of parking spaces without looking, make illegal turns, shout at cyclists, you name it. The city has recently drawn conspicuous “share the road” symbols all over the main streets, so I can only imagine what it was like before this was done!

    • Trisha says:

      That is so true about Europe vs. the US. But I sometimes wonder if we Americans are more afraid of things like walking at night than we should be. It is perceived as high-risk or something you should avoid at all costs, no matter where you live, especially if you’re a woman, but is that perception based on facts or fear?

  4. anna says:

    I must say that I feel very safe at night when I’m on my bike. I also like walking at night. What I don’t like when I’m on my own is to use public transport. It already met a couple of “strange” people in subways and was glad that I wasn’t on my own (in Switzerland I have seen securities in trams and trains at night, but we don’t have that). So I must say that cycling has improved my “feeling safe at night” factor a lot :). I also enjoy cycling at night because the city is much calmer, there are less cars around and it’s so much more relaxing.

  5. Tinker says:

    The factor that most affects me bicycling at ANY time day or night is the WEATHER (105 today). I have not found a method that will allow me to feel much better about it. (Oh, night? Yeah, low nineties usually. Not much better.) No kids standing around on street corners, either, too darned hot!

    4 lane divided roadway just outside the gate… I’m scared my saddle will melt.

  6. Catherine says:

    I live in a smallish city just outside DC–while just 4 miles outside city limits, it is its own little hub of activity…a big long main street with countless little shops, restaurants, bars etc, a central park/plaza in front of City Hall, locally owned and operated everything. Sometimes it’s too cute to stand.

    I always knew that the crime rate for such a place was relatively high (but significantly lower than DC’s), and it’s a prime target for criminals because it is heavy on tourists, the bars and restaurants are always packed, and the residents tend to be on the affluent side (sometimes extremely so, or sometimes decidedly middle class, but mostly affluent). It’s easy to get around (grid plan, no culs-de-sac), and easy to get out of (the county line is a mile in one direction, the state line a mile in another direction). So the criminals love it. Even so, I was never frightened to walk around late at night. It always felt warm and safe and cozy and quaint. I even eventually moved to a ground floor apartment (among other reasons, I get use of the alley and therefore bike parking) even though I knew it was technically a dangerous idea, but I still felt safe.

    Then, two weeks ago, some dude broke into my house while I was sleeping and I woke up (luckily he ran when he knew I was awake but it was still a terribly frightening ordeal), and I’ve been terrified ever since. I’ve only just moved back into my apartment (with company, and more locks and bars and alarms and I still can’t sleep) and walking around town doesn’t feel the same anymore. I haven’t been out on my bike yet because it’s still up at my aunt and uncle’s house (where I’ve been staying for the past few weeks), I plan to ride or Metro it back home this weekend. I’m hoping I won’t be as scared on my bike as I am walking. Somehow, I think I’ll feel safer on my bike because I can ride faster than the bad guys can run!

    Two VERY important thing of note: you can still be followed home from a public place on your bike. Not as easy as when you’re walking or driving but it can happen, so stay aware. Second, as most of us know, we tend to stand out on our bikes (particularly if we’re riding in dresses and skirts on a less common type of bike like a Dutch style or something). This can get welcome, positive attention from strangers or unwelcome negative attention from unsavory characters. Try to not leave your bike parked in public view near your residence (I know most people don’t already due to weather and theft concerns but still). It’s like waving a flag that says “this is where that cute girl who rides this bike lives and she’s probably home right now”.

    • dottie says:

      Oh my goodness, Catherine, that is terrifying! Thank you for sharing your story with us and I am so sorry that happened to you. A much, much less extreme situation than yours, but when my garage was broken into and my bikes stolen, it was a jolt and a reminder that I live in a big, crime-ridden city. What happened to you is even scarier. You should be fine now that you have more extensive security and bars. I wish you the best transitioning back to your apartment.

      That is a GREAT tip about not leaving distinctive bikes parked outside – there are creepy weirdos all over, unfortunately.

    • Trisha says:

      I’m so sorry Catherine! When my bike was stolen from just outside my apartment I woke up in the night for weeks so I can’t imagine how you must feel. I’m a bit concerned about leaving my bikes parked outside for just that reason but there are three front doors right around my bike parking area so any potential creepy person would have to beat the odds to find me.

  7. Elaine says:

    I feel safe either walking or cycling in my neighborhood; it’s a fairly average/low-crime town. Biking usually *feels* safer, since I’m zipping by a little faster. I do find the trail portion of my bike commute a little spooky in the wintertime, since it’s both dark and less used then. (My partner, who is more paranoid than I, feels better when I have my whistle around my neck and my bluetooth headset on.)

    I do have safety concerns on the trail in the dark half of the year, both of which are about falling rather than being jumped: wet leaves etc. and blinking headlights on other cyclists. That second one is a topic that tends to leave me frothing at the mouth. I get seriously disorientated on the dark trail (few or no lights) when someone comes the opposite direction with a blinking headlight. I’ve even had to pull over and wait until they pass. (What’s the best way to tell people they don’t need to have BLINKING lights on the trail?)

    From November through March, what’s most likely to stop me from cycling is the weather. My morning commute is often below freezing then, and I just don’t feel either safe or comfortable. Every so often I’ll wimp out on the rain even when the temps are decent, but not that often.

  8. Elaine says:

    In the light half of the year I usually have to be pried off of my bike with a crowbar. :)

  9. Pearl says:

    I live in DFW, in a well-lit, affluent neighborhood. Riding during the day and early evening is easy and safe. There is little car or foot traffic, everyone drives slowly, and there are lots of cops. I am looking forward to taking The Bike on a morning commute, come the beginning of the semester. I’ll be commuting early in the morning and, sometimes, in the early evening.

  10. alice says:

    I do not feel safe in my neighborhood after dark so if I know I will be coming back by myself I will always cycle as I am much safer from people grabbing me or following me. I am long gone before they can think of doing anything hopefully!

  11. Steven Vance says:

    Was this focus group run by someone named Stephen Vaughn?

  12. E A says:

    I must say with the muggings happening lately, I feel less safe than I have, especially after dark. And of course my mother worries!
    But on my bike at least I can pedal away and I’m not a sitting target, as I would be on the EL or standing at the bus stop or even just walking home.
    On my commute, I worry more about the door zone and traffic.
    But one can never be too careful – and to beware of any and all creeps.

  13. Pam Thorne says:

    I have mixed feelings…I’ll talk myself in to thinking it’s safe then it seems that I read of attacks and crime in our area that make me lose my nerve to bike home at night. I rode to town one evening this week and rode home after dark. I love riding at night, just wish I didn’t have to worry.

  14. ksteinhoff says:

    I spent most of my life as a newspaper photographer, so I found myself on a lot of mean streets at some odd hours.

    I found that people who LOOK like victims are the ones who BECOME victims. I became very good at reading my surroundings. If you walk confidently like you know where you’re going, if you speak respectfully to those you meet and you know when to move on, you likely won’t have any problems.

    Of course, in the old days I could usually talk or bluff my way out of dicey situations. Today I’d be more afraid of drive-by anonymous shootings than a one-on-one confrontation.

    Having said that, I feel more comfortable riding at night. People are friendlier, I’m more visible because there are fewer distractions for folks and traffic is lighter. Because there are so few of us, most muggers would starve to death if they counted on cyclists as prey.

    I DID have a nephew mugged here in West Palm Beach when he was riding at dusk on a main downtown intersection. He made the mistake of engaging a group of teenagers in conversation at a stop light. They surrounded him, and demanded his bike and his money. Not believing that he didn’t have any, they started beating him up and stripping his clothes off. Luckily a woman in a car drove up and started honking her horn to scare them off when they had him down to his underwear.

    Lesson to learn from that: if you see someone or a group hanging around an intersection, move to an inside lane to give you physical distance; if they start to move toward you, blow the light, you’re faster than them; if you’re really uncomfortable with the vibes, reverse course and find another route.

  15. Trisha says:

    I struggle with this question all the time. I think women are encouraged to be afraid for myriad reasons, some sensible and some not. I don’t want to significantly alter the way I live my life to avoid the small chance I’ll be accosted by a weirdo. On the other hand, I don’t want to do anything that’s patently unsafe. It’s hard to decide what is a true risk and what is just something we’re told is dangerous. I walk in my neighborhood during the day and early evening. I will cycle by myself after dark and as late as 10-11 pm or so (depends where I am). Anything later than that, I’ll drive.

  16. E A says:

    Of course my commute last night has me questioning worrying too much. As I rode, I saw what could have been an unsavory character (who could have simply been someone stepping in front of me as I rode) and in paying too much attention to him and avoiding ANY kind of confrontation with him, I nearly got doored by a truck! Whew! Barely missed that one…. and crisis averted. But I stand by my original comment that getting doored or the traffic around me does keep me on my pedaling toes. I’ll still be mindful of the pedestrians and potential creepy characters, but not to the point of distraction from the big picture.

  17. Sarah says:

    This is an interesting thread, as I have very conflicted feelings about biking versus driving at night. I live in a small city (100k people), that is pretty affluent with a low crime rate, but I still feel vulnerable being out alone after dark (there were several reported assaults last year, although mostly near the university and very late at night). The dark is just not comfortable to me. There is one residential neighborhood I go through frequently that has no street lights or sidewalks, with houses pretty far apart, and is generally almost completely deserted in the evening. I do feel safer on a bike than walking or waiting at a bus stop, but I feel most comfortable just getting through the dark quickly in a car and not being so exposed. I like biking in the evening in summer when it stays light later but the rest of the year I generally drive at night when out alone. Most likely I am not in very much danger if I go by bike at night, but the discomfort is not worth it to me.

  18. chibikegal says:

    I’ve explored a good portion of chicago, and there are neighborhoods I wouldn’t recommend biking through in the daytime – you’ll know them when you no longer hear the sound of kids playing or people talking on their stoop on a bright sunny day. but at night I have no problem on the busy bike thoroughfares – milwaukee, damen, armitage … given how short the “day” is during the winter, it just isn’t a choice to avoid the dark sometimes. but stay out of the dark dark streets – the only place I’ve been mugged was walking in Depaul, on a dark leafy side street of million dollar homes, which was also the last time I took a short cut late at night …

  19. Carolyn says:

    I took the NYC subway at night alone after a night at club. Think I caught train at 1:30-2:00 am, never felt threatened. Psst, don’t tell my Mom! :)

  20. […] By dottie I recently asked about safety and security concerns while cycling through your neighborhood, and I mentioned that I […]

  21. […] By dottie I recently asked about safety and security concerns while cycling through your neighborhood, and I mentioned that I […]

  22. kristin says:

    I live in Andersonville (Ch’go) and feel very safe biking it at night… walking is usually fine, too, depending on the street. Best to stay on your guard for either endeavor, though.

    But, like you Dottie, I’m more worried about careless / drunk drivers dooring me than nefarious characters when I ride at night. I’d rather ride a bike home from somewhere at midnight than walk home from the Bryn Mawr or Berwyn el stop.

  23. […] drag, but sometimes it makes everything seem quiet and calm.  Just make sure you are cognizant of safety and security concerns and have good […]

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