women riding alone
A few recent discussions on this board — and a few recent conversations with friends — have led me to think about women riding alone in what are generally considered unsafe neighborhoods.
Any experiences to share? Any advice? Is there genuine cause to worry?
I’m not some scaredy cat who thinks that if I take one wrong turn in the city I’ll get shot within five minutes. However, I do believe in caution.
Wondering what others think …
I don’t generally give the neighborhood much consideration during a daytime ride, aside from traffic issues, of course. The expection to that is the North Shore Trail (on the far side of the Casino). That trail creeps me out, and I try to avoid it. The vegetation grows too close to the trail, and there are too few visual clues to when/where the next bail point might be. Several times I’ve had people (innocently) step onto the trail right in front of me, and had no chance of seeing them through the leaves. As far as trails go, pristine is good, remote just doesn’t work for me.
As for other areas, it depends mostly on time of day, and the speed I expect to be traveling as I pass through. I don’t want to spend lot of time being the subject of scrutiny as I pass by. Mostly because I want to avoid the verbal badgering, which is about the worst I’ve encountered.
I ride alone every day at some point or another, and I feel comfortable riding in every neighborhood during the day. Like Swalfoort said, my neighborhood/street choices have more to do with traffic. There are areas I wouldn’t want to walk in at night but I feel totally fine riding my bike in.
When I come home from work (from Downtown to Bloomfield), I take the ally behind all the Strip restaurants (between Penn and Liberty) because of the low traffic. There are often employees of the restaurants, delis, etc. hanging out back and sometimes they say something or stare at me, but it’s better than dealing with the traffic on Liberty, going the wrong way on Penn, or dealing with the trucks/potholes on Smallman. I’d rather deal with a few creepy stares than stressful traffic. I don’t like riding that ally alone at night though – I would opt for a more heavily trafficked road.
I second not riding on trails at night. One useful trail that I wish was better lit is the Panther Hollow trail that goes from Oakland/Panther Hollow to 4-Mile run. This trail is a great way to get between Bloomfield and South Side, but at night it’s too dark and secluded for me.
Riding a bike really opened up the city for me at both day and night-time. Places where I used to be very on-guard at night while walking I can now swiftly breeze by.
I see a lot of woman both running , walking, and riding alone on the Montour trail and fear for them! If near dusk I will often ask if they would like an escort, some do, some don’t, some are annoyed by the offer but my responsibility is steadfast , we are catholic and responsible for each other welfare . My family has have personally experienced the worst trauma a farther can image and I can attest that one brutal act will change the course of the entire family. Ladies if you don’t fear for your safety, please consider your family. I know this sucks and your freedom should not be restricted by criminals but… the alternative….. Words cannot express both my compassion and alarm on this subject.
Buck, I don’t think your reply addresses mmfranzen’s question.
For this topic, I dont think the person or people who would do harm to a person would realise your sex before attacking you. If it is night time, and you are wearing your gear (ie helmet, lights, etc) I dont think it is easy to tell the sex of a cyclist in the dark. Are there any stats on gender or sex-related crimes on cyclists at night? Something tells me sex has little to do with it.
That said, I don’t tend to avoid too many places while riding–the eliza furnace trail from downtown to greenfield is my only exception. I do ride the hollow sometimes, and would prefer to have friends with me when I do at night, but it isnt always possible. The only person I have ever run into there is a guy who had a tripod all set up to take pictures of the bridge in the dark and he was a cyclist too.
And as for Buck’s post, I am offended. What you describe makes it sound like it is a female’s fault for choosing to go someplace on her own and not the assualter’s fault for choosing to assault her. If a stranger asks me if I want an escort, I sure as hell am not going to accept because you are a man I don’t know—and it sounds like you would tell women never to take an offer like that from an unfamiliar male to begin with. Also: “because I’m a woman I should think of my family” is incredibly patronizing. Do men not have families to “think about” as well?
In my experience, both men and women should use caution when cycling alone on a sparsely populated route. Caution I think just means being aware of what’s coming up in the next block, or down the trail 50 yards. I know others have said it before, but it bears repeating that you should never bike with an ipod on! Your ears are your best tool for staying alert to “unseen” hazards like cars, other bikes, pedestrians, buses, and probably someone looking to cause trouble.
I’ve had some crummy experiences on the streets of neighborhoods where there are more abandoned houses – but it has been mostly teenagers trying to act tough by stepping out in front of me or yelling alarming things just as I ride by. It seems to me that this could happen to women or men. Both my wife and I have been startled similarly – I choose to vary my daily route by a block or two in the more isolated sections and my wife avoids isolated streets all together. I would also add that when I feel nervous about a group of people or a lone walker I’m usually on a road that is sparsely trafficked enough that I can move over towards the yellow line enough that I feel safer, and then I’m gone seconds later because of the speed of a bicycle. The trails I will admit are a different story – I think everyone is a little more vulnerable on the trails at night since there is no car traffic.
I’ve never encountered any gender-specific problems while riding, but like rachel_ding, I sometimes choose not to ride the back allies alone at night. The main roads are quieter then anyway.
Aside from exercising obvious common sense, I tend to go more on instinct than anything else: there are times when I’ve avoided a particular road/alley at night, if I can see a group of people gathered up ahead in the distance… then again, there are times when I’ve biked the same alley at the same time, and felt okay about it.
I will doff my cyclist hat for a moment here and put on my amateur astronomer’s hat instead. Topic: Street (or trail) lighting. The short version: Less is better.
Pittsburgh city streets, in general, have horrid street lighting. Most of the generated photons go sideways or up, rather than down. Sideways means glare, causing your pupils to narrow, resulting in you less able to see dark areas. Up means skyglow, meaning we all cannot see the stars. (You *should* be able to see 14,000 distinct stars. Around here, you’re lucky to see 500, or even 50.) It’s also wasteful, both in tax dollars and pollution.
As to safety, all that stupidly designed lighting causes *less* safety, not more. Anyone looking to jump you is much better able to do so if there’s a light illuminating a spot. Anyone looking to avoid being identified is greatly helped by having stupid lighting shine straight into the eyes of potential witnesses.
Dark is best. Get a headlight so you can see where you’re going, but we do *not* need so-called “better lighting”.
We could use better lighting on certain trails. My headlight is great, and I can see in front of me, but the world to the sides of me and behind me is dark.
When I’m on the Panther Hollow trail alone at night I don’t feel safe. I probably AM safe, ‘cuz no one I know has had a problem on that trail, but I don’t FEEL safe. Lighting would make me feel safer.
It sounds like you’re more upset about Pittsburgh’s crappy lighting choices than a female cyclist (me) saying that she’d feel safer on a lit trail. So what you really mean is this (at least this is what I’m hearing) – we need better designed street-lighting which focuses the light down onto the sidewalk/trail/street.
Thanks to all for your answers.
I find it interesting that a number of people mentioned avoiding the trails at night. That’s part of what prompted me to ask in the first place — the discussion about the 2 a.m. ride on the Eliza Furnace Trail.
I’m a 6’2 male that doesn’t look like the easiest target, and I do not ride the trails at night unless I’m with a group.
I don’t know about the other trails, but it’s illegal to use the Eliza Furnace Trail after dark. Kinda crazy for something that was sold as being a facility to enhance cycle commuting, dontcha think?
In the winter, I have no choice but to use it after dark. I have to commute to work before the sun comes up and ride home after sunset. I ride it all the time after dark. Have never had a problem.
I’ve also noticed a number of people on Friday nights having a tailgate party in the parking lot at Swinburne Street. Nothing spectacular, just a couple of people sitting around, talking and having a few beers. I’ve never known the cops to show up and chase them off.
I worry about riding alone in potentially sketchy areas when I am in my trisuit (if going to swim or otherwise training). But if I am tooling around on my commuter bike in my street clothes I don’t think about it. I avoid riding at night since I fear drunks and potholes — not because I’m a woman.
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