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personal safety

Car Free Personal Safety in Baltimore

Before I moved to Baltimore 5 years ago I mostly lived in small towns and suburbs. I read a bit about Baltimore’s crime issues before moving here, but didn’t think it would affect me. A robbery headline in the paper was some other guy. When 5 teenagers attacked a bunch of cyclists this spring, myself included, I wondered what I could have done to prevent the attack. In my circumstances, not much. But I will say that ditching my car and being more exposed to Baltimore’s streets has changed me. We adapt to our environments, and city life is fundamentally different than living in a cul-de-sac in Iowa City. Despite all the wonderful things Baltimore has to offer, we still have a crime problem. Accepting this fact is the first step in protecting yourself.

We can’t prevent all crime, but we can do some things to make ourselves appear as less of a victim.  This is a part of personal responsibility. Some people may bemoan the fact that I’m telling them they should change their style or behavior because of where they live. That’s fine. You can wear headphones and play on your IPad on MTA all you want. Something may never happen, but know that you’re dealing yourself a hand with a few extra Jokers thrown in.

So here are a few things I’ve done to adapt to the city and improve my personal safety while I’m out on the street. This stuff isn’t meant to scare you, but make you aware:

  • Ditch the headphones. I used to love listening to music on the bus. I’d get lost in it. Those new ultra-high-quality-ear-muff headphones are temping, too. After witnessing a few grab and runs and seeing joggers with headphones get robbed, I stopped that.  I’d say this is the most important thing you can do to decrease your chances of being robbed. Yes, it’s a sacrifice, but it also gives you a chance to interact with more people while you’re out.
  • Walk with a purpose.   I see a lot of people float apologetically through the streets, eyes focused on nothing in particular and hands in their pockets. Walk like you mean it. Walk like you just came back from Europe after WWII, victorious.
  • Get In Shape.  You can still be a hipster and not look like a light breeze will blow you over.  For dudes: Going to the gym regularly will build your confidence, get you ladies, and make thugs think twice about messing with you.
  • If it’s late, go in groups or get a cab. Notice the time of day a lot of street robberies happen? If you biked somewhere on the other side of town during the day, stayed later than you thought (because that bourbon is good), and have a long bike ride home by yourself through a rough area, think about getting a cab.
  • Stop talking on the phone, txting, or playing with your iPad on the bus. I witnessed several grab and runs on MTA this summer. Most of them involved people txting or reading stuff on their IPad. If your friend just txted, I’m sure they’ll understand if you wait 10min to get back to them. You are not a slave to your phone.  Having to replace a stolen phone with your entire life on it is not something I’d wish on my worst enemy.
  • Bike route choices: In Baltimore, you often have a choice between comfortable cycling routes in iffy areas (Guildford Bike Blvd, Jones Falls near JFX, MLK Jr. Blvd side path), or less comfortable routes in safer areas (Charles St., St. Paul St.). Know your options. Lately, I’ve been choosing the latter.

Living without a car in Baltimore is a struggle, but if you’re able to adapt, it’s still ten times better than the alternative. Especially when you see something like this on your bike ride home.


Assaulted While Riding My Bike on Guilford Ave.

Earlier today I was attacked by a group of teens at the intersection of Guilford and Lanvale. They unsuccessfully tried to steal my $100 bike.  They did manage to land a few punches and throw me down as I was trying to escape, but some residents of the 1700 block of Guilford stepped in during the scene and helped chase them off before things got bad.  Aside from a few scrapes and black eye, I’m fine. The police tried to chase the teens down in Greenmount West, but they escaped through an alley.

Having read about cycling attacks like these in Baltimore but never having been a victim of one, I thought I knew how I’d handle it.  I thought I’d just outrun the attackers. Wrong. Unless you’re going down hill or already have some major speed, they will block your escape routes and grab any part of your bike or clothing to try to bring you down.  I also thought that once they got the bike, they’d just grab it and run. The teens who attacked me, however, wanted to inflict some pain. Trying to get the bike was just a bonus. If there’s no escape route, like in my case, I will say making a commotion, looking pissed off  (and not scared), and shouting gets people’s attention and discourages the attackers. Doing these things probably helped in my case. Criminals and those willing to inflict harm on others are often cowards who operate in dark, unseen places.  The more attention you’re able to bring to the situation, the more likely the assailants will run.

If you’re cycling on Guilford, which is probably the best north/south route in the city, this post isn’t meant to freak you out, but to make you aware.  Cycling 2 or more is best, but alone at night is still iffy.  With new rehabs being completed, fewer vacant rowhomes and more “eyes on the street” in Greenmount West and Station North, I hope cycling assaults become less common in this area, and hopefully my story becomes an isolated incident in the future.

***Update: Thanks to Baltimore Velo, Baltimore Brew, BmoreBikes, and BikeMore for getting the word out. This wasn’t an isolated incident, and there are reports of similar cycling assaults on Charles Street between North Ave. and 25th St.