An Eye On Potholes And Crime

Crime Scenes

Planner Considers Safety When Mapping Bike Routes

August 26, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

There are a lot of obstacles that Nate Evans considers when he designates a bicycle route.

Baltimore's bicycle pedestrian planner - yes, this is his official title - accounts for potholes, the quality of pavement and how fast cars travel on a particular street. (He calls Northern Parkway a "speedway" that should be avoided by the pedaling crowd.)

But there's another factor that has to be part of the bicycle-loving mayor's Bike Baltimore campaign to mark cycling routes throughout the city.

Crime.

Evans, who works for the city's Department of Transportation, has been quietly recording crimes against bicyclists. He incorporates the information into routes he's mapping, to advise two-wheel commuters on the most efficient way to get from places like Park Heights to downtown without getting beaten, mugged or pelted with rocks.

Based on his statistics, which he acknowledges are incomplete, he advises, for example, that bicyclists leaving Johns Hopkins Hospital avoid most east-side streets and instead pedal south to Highlandtown and head west.

From Northwest Baltimore, he recommends using Eutaw Street instead of the quicker Druid Hill Avenue to get downtown.

"It's out of their way, but they'll get there a lot safer," Evans said.

The idea came from Mayor Sheila Dixon, an avid cyclist who often invites residents and commuters on rides, after a guest told of being shot with a BB gun while riding on Calhoun Street in West Baltimore.

Evans culls his figures not from city police records, where he said he was told it would be difficult to compile reports on bicycle attacks without reading through every assault and robbery narrative, and instead relies on the police blotter feature published most days in The Baltimore Sun.

The feature is a summary of crime news, far from a complete list, but Evans has found 14 attacks against bicyclists in the past year. He fears many more go unreported.

Five of the 14 attacks occurred in and around Bolton Hill and Charles Village. Teens are involved in almost all of them, and in 10 instances, there were three or more assailants. Typically, one person stands in the street to force a cyclist to stop, and the rest pounce. They are almost never armed with guns, but in nine cases, the attackers stole the bicycle.

The attacks take place on residential streets and occurred between 3 p.m. and 1 a.m., including six after 9 p.m. Morning commuters seem to be spared.

Often, Evans said, bicyclists like to cut through Westport, a high-crime area. Rod Bruckdorfer, a 63-year-old retiree who lives in South Baltimore's Riverside neighborhood, found out the hard way in May. He said he was riding by the Westport light rail stop when a young man pelted him with rocks, hitting and denting his helmet.

"I was very fortunate I wasn't injured," Bruckdorfer said.

Bruckdorfer seems the ideal bicyclist for the mayor's plan. Though retired, he was working on a project and bicycling toward the Inner Harbor. His family went from two cars to one to help the environment. "I wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, and I can go places in the city much faster than I can with a car, and I park a lot easier," he said.

He was on Kolman Street, part of the designated Gwynns Falls Trail, when he was attacked in the late afternoon, but he has few complaints. He wanted to make sure that this article noted that he holds the rock-throwing youth somewhat responsible, but "at the same time I think society is culpable because we let kids fall through the cracks. It's quite possible he was angry that day, and I happened to be there."

He, as well as the mayor's spokesman, concurred that Evans is doing a service by helping people map out streets that are free of both potholes and criminals. "If we're going to encourage people to ride," Evans said, "we owe it to them to make sure the route is safe."

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