Criminals don't bicycle when roads are available


August 02, 1998|By Brian Sullam

WHEN IT comes to controversial public works projects, bike trails have moved right up there with jails and landfills.

The effort to block the construction of a bicycle trail 7/10ths of mile long through Poplar Park in Annapolis follows a disturbing pattern in other jurisdictions.

Residents in communities as diverse as Westminster, in Carroll County, and Mount Washington, in Baltimore, have fought the creation of bike trails because of their supposed magnetic effect on criminals.

I have never understood why people believe that bike trails offer easier access to victims than the roads and streets that crisscross our communities.

Getaway bikes?

Only an incompetent burglar would use a bicycle as a getaway vehicle. It's pretty difficult to cart away televisions, microwaves, compact-disc players and other household appliances in a handlebar basket.

(In China seven years ago, I did see men and women carry some pretty sizable objects on their bicycles, from bags containing hundreds of pounds of cabbage to oversized truck tires. But a similar feat in Annapolis would only draw a great deal of attention, precisely what a criminal doesn't want.)

While I know that crime does occur on bike paths, it's not a function of the bike path anymore than the street crime is a function of having public streets.

Crime arises out of a complex combination of sociological pathologies.

Construction of the Poplar Park bike path won't bring criminals to the Germantown and Homewood communities any more than do Windell Avenue, Poplar Avenue or Cedar Park Road.

This dislike of bike paths is a reflection of the sad state of civic life, which seems to be dominated by fear of our fellow citizens.

Anyone who is different -- by skin color, age or perceived economic status -- is seen as dangerous.

Threat of a tot lot

When a developer in Carroll County wanted to construct tot lots between some of the houses in his Eldersburg subdivision, some residents objected.

They envisioned teen-agers hanging out, attracting drug dealers and, ultimately, destroying their neighborhood.

I witnessed this same fear a couple of years ago in my own neighborhood.

The community association held a meeting to discuss a possible bike path along a section of Western Run Stream in Baltimore's Mount Washington.

Residents of Fairbanks Street had organized to oppose the plan.

They claimed that a trail along a stream that borders the rear of their properties would make their houses vulnerable to criminals.

Most of their yards backed onto a hillside that rose about 30 to 40 feet above the stream.

The wooded hillside was thickly covered with trees, brambles, poison ivy and brush.

At the meeting, several residents laid out their arguments that the trail would give undesirables easy access.

This prompted one of the trail's advocates to stand up and offer his opinion.

"I know that most criminals aren't very smart," he said. "But I don't think they would climb a hillside to get to your houses when they could just as easily use the street."

Lost cause

His argument didn't prevail.

The trail was never built. I believe my neighborhood is worse off for it.

People still bike, jog and walk their dogs, but they have to do it on the street rather than on a trail dedicated to these activities.

They have to compete with the cars for space on our narrow neighborhood streets. They also have to breath a fair amount of auto exhaust.

Had the trail been built, there would have been a pleasant neighborhood refuge where people might have congregated, chatted and interacted. It would have strengthened people's attachment to the community.

City Council shouldn't cave

The Annapolis City Council should not repeat the same mistake by caving into misinformed arguments that bike paths invariably attract criminal activity.

The Poplar Park bike path is an essential element of 40 miles of interconnecting hiker-biker trails planned for the state capital.

Every mile of the planned system should be built.

Existing bike trails in Anne Arundel County and elsewhere in Maryland are enormously popular on the weekends. More trails are needed.

Moreover, the bike trails will offer some residents the possibility of biking to work rather than driving, relieving some of Annapolis' automobile congestion.

As for the "criminals," they are more likely to rely on cars than bikes to transport themselves.

When they commit their crimes, they are likely to stay on the streets and off the bike paths.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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