Sunday, August 26, 2007

Another threat? picked up the story of a bicyclist who was assaulted and robbed on the Springwater Trail multi-use path Wednesday night. The path makes up the bulk of my commute route most nights. The incident actually happened out past Sellwood, where the trail definitely changes character from good spooky (owls and rustling critters) to bad spooky (nocturnal humans with hobbies their mothers probably wouldn't approve of).

I remember riding from campus over the Hawthorne Bridge with a friend one night last year. When I said I'd be peeling off at the Springwater-OMSI exit, she asked whether I thought it was safe at night. Now granted, I hadn't been here long from Montana, but my response in hindsight seems pretty funny in a hick-in-the-big-city sort of way. I responded, "No cars, potholes, or mountain lions...yeah, I'd say supersafe!" Now, with time, I came to understand that it's people that everyone's worried about here. I've never had a problem on the stretch from OMSI to Sellwood, but I'll admit I've been a little spooked on the stretches farther out when I've done night rides that direction.

In a comment over at, local bicycle rider Beth H. (who has a neat bike blog of her own) hits on the big answer, I think. She argues that feeling unsafe on the bike path is just a symptom of the larger problem of displaced, distressed populations in the city. I see one of the advantages of bicycling as bringing me closer to these sorts of problems. Each winter night, I ride through a homeless camp that's setting up for a cold night under the Hawthorne Bridge and pass folks slowly pedaling all their belongings toward some uncertain future. The vulnerability of being on a bicycle makes us more aware of our connection to these bigger problems. But, that long-term advantage has real short-term complications. Problems of homelessness and poverty won't be solved in time for tonight's commute, so what should we do in the meantime? Several commenters on the recent attack mention that they won't use the Springwater after dark (or some portions even in daylight), and I think that's a real problem.

Suggestions include regular bike patrols, better lighting, or improved design. A part of me thinks we should just toughen up and ride through the dark (and, the more cyclers the safer!). But, at the same time, scary bicycling probably isn't the best way to encourage folks to ride. Maybe step one is just moving away from anecdotes and getting real information. How risky are the trails at night? Where/what are the major problems? Are things getting better or worse?

At any rate, glad that the assaulted cycler is all right, and I hope he gets his bike back.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Concealed Carry Laws address this scenario. If the badguys have the suspicion you are armed, you look much less like a cute little bunnny and more like a lone wolf. The latter is not to be messed with.

Perhaps you need a piece of outerwear that reads "Protected by Smith & Wesson".

3:23 PM  
Anonymous mike said...

Perhaps a weekly or bi-weekly group ride through the areas, commuter lights a blazin to take back the trails? It's sad that someone was hurt going about their normal business - but I think part of this is a matter of perception - my wife and I have both lived in 'big' cities (NY and Boston) - when we see the kids out and about the middle of the street here in town we often laugh at oddness of it all - but some folks lock their doors and avoid parts of town. Crime does happen - and its pretty random.

Take back the trail. You could ask for more bike patrols, or you can organize some large group rides. Bring some visibility to the area and it might start to change.


PS - Anxious to get our first shipment of Dutch City bikes here in VT...

9:18 PM  
Blogger this verdant country said...

My friend Tim got the shit kicked out of him on a secluded stretch of bike trail just outside of downtown Minneapolis. The assailants tried to take his bike, but ultimately lost interest in it and left him bleeding, bruised, and with a broken tooth or two. He described the culprits as suburban-looking white kids with clean, expensive-looking clothes. If his characterization is true, and given that they didn't seriously try to rob him, then it seems they did it just for thrills and don't necessarily fit the "displaced, distressed populations" stereotype. They were just assholes.

I'm tempted to agree with the first commenter about the value of a concealed weapon. However, in truth, it is often difficult to react quickly enough to such an attack to effectively bring one's S&W into play. Also I'm opposed to concealed carry laws because I think we should be able to carry without a special permit.

5:49 PM  
Blogger this verdant country said...

I just read through some of the comments on the Bike Portland thread. It seems that there is a lot of concern, and good reason for it.

One idea occurred to me. Why not a "take back the bike path" movement with citizen patrols? There are reportedly lots of civic-minded cyclists in Portland. If everyone of these people volunteered to work a shift or two per year, patrolling some of the more secluded paths in highly visible groups, it would serve as a deterrent for nefarious activity.

5:58 PM  
Blogger bmike said...

i think verdant country and i have been following each other around the blogosphere today!

take back the bike path! organize a ride. dig in! its home! bring out some of that portland bike power. do an intervention...

but be safe, and smart. if the areas are filled with homeless, perhaps stopping off at a dining establishment or two and hauling out some cargo trailers of food... or dragging some of your town leaders out by bike to see the issues first hand (crime, poor lighting... etc.)

8:12 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Thanks for all the thoughts. I find the idea of citizen "patrols" combined with outreach (food, blankets, whatever) really appealing. I'd sign on in a heartbeat. At least one commenter over at was concerned that even 2-man patrols might be vulnerable out in the sketchy areas of southeast. Maybe that's where the self-defense equipment comes in. I don't know how to use a gun, but I could probably work a mace can.

Back in Missoula, the primary task of the bike cops was riding the bike trails and keeping in touch with the homeless and teenage ruffians hanging around. I'm going to ping the bike community here about this.

11:54 AM  

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