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Commuting bike path safety question

Old 08-16-10, 11:02 AM
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Jessica Faye
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Commuting bike path safety question

I'm a relatively new rider, trying to transition to commuting to school and work by bike instead of car. My area (Madison, WI) has a lot of great bike paths for commuters, but I'm concerned because the neighborhood I live in is not the best, and the bike paths nearyby pass through some very isolated places (beneath overpasses, behind vacant strip malls, etc). I've heard rumors of and even read police reports of muggings on the bike paths, especially at night, in this area. Is there anything I can do, besides crossing my fingers, to protect myself against this kind of thing while riding? Will being a fast-moving target deter thieves, will more bike lights help or hurt, etc...any tips or ideas would be appreciated. As a side note, the streets aren't really an option for at least a portion of my ride...they're 45-55 mph highways with heavy traffic.
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Old 08-16-10, 11:34 AM
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This is a great question for your local police force. Tell them your planned route, times/days you'll be there. FWIW bike speed doesn't always deter thieves, as posts on this site have shown.
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Old 08-16-10, 12:09 PM
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I've heard a couple of riders from places like Washington, D.C. and Detroit say that they avoid the bike path when it is dark. They stick to the roads, and always vary their route, to make it harder for local thugs to scope them out.
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Old 08-16-10, 12:09 PM
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Carry pepper spray in an easy access holster?
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Old 08-16-10, 12:29 PM
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There is also safety in numbers; try and arrange to ride with others if possible.
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Old 08-16-10, 12:32 PM
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This might give you an idea:

https://spotcrime.com/wi/madison
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Old 08-16-10, 01:14 PM
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Muggings have occurred on a couple of popular bike paths in Minneapolis. If you have to ride after dark, see if you can ride with somebody. In my case the bike path I use is busy enough, - even late, that I can usually spot another cyclist nearby or about to enter. I will either catch up to them or wait. Volunteer bike patrols and riding in groups have significantly reduced the frequency.

Folks here have reported that riding fast does discourage a mugger. It makes timing more difficult for them. I also will turn my light on to it's most obnoxious flashing mode and it's fairly bright. Yes, somebody could see me coming that way, but if their goal is to knock me off my bike, again, it's going to hinder their vision and timing.
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Old 08-16-10, 05:22 PM
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Getting to and from your destination safely is the primary concern for all cyclist. How people do it will vary. I usually blend in which helps me. I wear regular clothes and look like I belong. I do have lights both front and rear, but have chosen to turn them off on certain parts of my commute. I have also ridden on sidewalks and/or against traffic as well. There are also times I don't wear reflective clothing and/or a helmet.

However there are times when I have both my front lights on, my helmet light on, both rear lights on, and wear a reflective vest. I'll take the lane when necessary and follow the rules of the road. It all depends.

To me its a conundrum. I want to be a responsible cyclist, yet at the same time I must be mindful of my environment. Just be aware of your surroundings first and foremost. If something doesn't feel right, there is nothing wrong with accepting a ride home. If a weapon such as pepper spray, a u-lock, a bright light, or whatever helps, then use it. If you see a crime or suspicious activity then notify the police. God forbid something does happen, give them what they want or get to safety as quick as possible. It's a good question, just no easy answers.
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Old 08-16-10, 08:22 PM
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Madison cyclist and commuter here.

Where would your commute take you, exactly? I've put a few thousand miles worth of commutes in and never had any troubles. Lot of that at night.
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Old 08-16-10, 08:53 PM
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Dont rule out the streets, because of heavy traffic. The lanes are usually wider on streets with higher speeds, and the traffic might not be as heavy at your riding time. I feel safer riding in traffic with a glsses mounted mirror as I am always aware of what is approaching from behind. You can always take the sidewalk for particularly difficult stretches, but that presents danger of cars exiting from commercial lots.
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Old 08-16-10, 09:23 PM
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I usually don't travel much on trails after dark. Ignoring the issue of crime, you need an exceptional light for trails because there's no street lighting and because there aren't too many bicycles on the trail, an accident might go unnoticed for a while. I usually stick to well-lit streets after dark; there's generally less traffic,too.
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Old 08-17-10, 03:04 PM
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The brighter the light, the better - I found out that when riding at night in sketchy areas, ultra - bright, like blindingly bright light makes such shady characters stay out of my way. Maybe they can't see, or they're scared of so bright light, but who cares, it works for me. Just thought I would share.
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Old 08-17-10, 03:24 PM
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Originally Posted by whitecat View Post
The brighter the light, the better - I found out that when riding at night in sketchy areas, ultra - bright, like blindingly bright light makes such shady characters stay out of my way. Maybe they can't see, or they're scared of so bright light, but who cares, it works for me. Just thought I would share.
Yep. It's REALLY hard to see things in the dark when someone's shining a bright light into your eyes.

A good bright helmet-mounted light is best for this. You can make sure it stays aimed where you want it.
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Old 08-17-10, 03:58 PM
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Originally Posted by achoo View Post
Yep. It's REALLY hard to see things in the dark when someone's shining a bright light into your eyes.

A good bright helmet-mounted light is best for this. You can make sure it stays aimed where you want it.
+1. Not looking like a victim will help too, act like you belong and know what you're doing while being respectful. The check with the police and find others to ride with ideas are good too.
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Old 08-17-10, 05:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Jessica Faye View Post
Will [...] more bike lights help or hurt
When I ride at night, I light my bike up like a christmas tree, and this includes a powerful headlight. Sometimes I'll duck into different parks to enjoy a view of the sky line in front of some body of water, and I notice that some of the people in the park scatter when they see me. This is pretty consistent. They seem to be thinking that anybody rolling through the park at night, shining a light, must be the police.

Mind you, in the parks I'm talking about, the worst I can expect is to smell some kids smoking weed. But muggers probably don't want to talk to the police, either.
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Old 08-17-10, 08:06 PM
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I should preface this by saying I know nothing about Madison but as a general rule, it may be wise to treat second-hand reports of crime and problems with a degree of healthy skepticism. Things can get mangled in the mix and distorted. You'll hear all sorts of stuff about cycling being incredibly dangerous and that you will die by the end of the first week, too, but it doesn't make it any more true.

A chat with the local community policing officer (or whatever the local equivalent might be) might be helpful. Or the local cyclists' group. Or if you see other bike commuters in the area, flag them down and ask them their impression.

Good luck, don't be discouraged.
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Old 08-17-10, 09:13 PM
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Lots of lights and a Class 2 reflective safety vest will help. It may not deterent would be thieves and mugger, but in the case the unthinkable happens, the lights may light up enough of the scene for other bikers or Pedestrian nearby to take notice. Have a Airzound or other noise device to attract attention.

Couple of suggestion, faster speed will make it harder for them but in the event that they do knock you off your bike, your chances of getting off the ground will be reduce and the risk of injury will increase. Get to know your path as best as you can. Do a lot of daytime ride and try to memorize any spot that can be of hidden danger such as places that mugger can hide out. Do not ride with your purse expose, it will only attract thieves. It also a target for thieve to try to rip it off your shoulder which will throw you off your bike. If you must carry a purse, put it in a pannier bag or strap it to the rack and cover it. Seperate the values from your purse and carry those in a smaller fold in your pants that has hip pocket. Leave only a small amount of cash in the purse with some old credit card to make it look like some value in the event that someone does try to rob you, they will have to stop you and then you offer them the purse. Some will check the inside and the cash and the old Credit cards might be enough for them to go there own ways afterwards. Since time is a factor against them, it take longer to get the purse out of the pannier or unstrap it and they might not even bother checking inside once you do give them your purse.

Most important is this. In those questionable area, do not listen to your MP3. It can easily distract you of your surrounding and thieve can sense when a victim is in an unawareness mode.

There are some stuff you can carry just in case but be prepare to use them without hesitation. Taser(C2) and OC spray(Fox Lab or Sabre Red) are the common choice, but you must be willing to use them or otherwise, they can be use against you. Check your local law for any restriction of these stuff. If you choose to carry these, then make sure it is in your posession and not on the bike. Make sure you practice them at home so you are familier with their operation in the dark and know their limitation, otherwise you better off leaving those at home or not even consider it.

Last edited by colleen c; 08-17-10 at 09:16 PM.
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Old 08-17-10, 10:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
When I ride at night, I light my bike up like a christmas tree, and this includes a powerful headlight. Sometimes I'll duck into different parks to enjoy a view of the sky line in front of some body of water, and I notice that some of the people in the park scatter when they see me. This is pretty consistent. They seem to be thinking that anybody rolling through the park at night, shining a light, must be the police.

Mind you, in the parks I'm talking about, the worst I can expect is to smell some kids smoking weed. But muggers probably don't want to talk to the police, either.
A couple of us have been asked if we were the police due to the bright lights and high viz vests combined with being out in the park/trail after dark. Unfortunately we don't have that same effect when it's light out and we're trying to dodge the dogwalkers standing in the middle of the path.
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Old 08-22-10, 05:27 PM
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May also consider high-decibel personal alarms

https://www.streetdefender.com/
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