Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"I'm never ever going to do X again": Bicycling, crimes, women and safety and living in the city

The Post has a brief article ("Pregnant woman stabbed while biking home from work in DC") about how a recent arrival to the city, a woman, 7 months pregnant, who lives in the Hill East/Potomac Avenue of Southeast DC/Capitol Hill, was stabbed by a pedestrian while riding home from work.  From the article:
Police are looking for a black man between the ages of 30 and 40 and about 5 foot 11. He was wearing a black shirt and black jeans at the time of the stabbing at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, police said.

The victim said she does not know what the man’s intentions were — perhaps he was trying to steal her backpack, she said. She said that she is in the Coast Guard and just moved to the District from Hawaii about a month ago.

The stabbing makes her feel less safe in her new neighborhood.

“It will take me a while, I think, to get comfortable again. And unfortunately, I won’t be commuting to work anymore on my bicycle,” she said.

FWIW, I don't think the guy was trying to rob her.  Likely he has mental health issues.  The impolite way to refer to the guy is "he's crazy."

I say this because something similar happened to me about 20 years ago on the 1600 block of L Street NW, in an area with far more people and positive street activity. 

I was cycling to work, "on the sidewalk," less than 100 feet from where I was about to lock my bike, on a signpost outside the office building where I was working at the time, when a black guy in his 40s or 50s, "swung a bag" at me, and hit me in the head.

I was prepared to just go about my business, chalking it as one of the many indignities of urban life, when I rubbed my head and I was bleeding.  It turned out that the bag had tools in it.  He just kept walking on, in the other direction.

I followed him for a couple miles, on buses off buses, etc., until he, me and police were in the same place, and I got him arrested.  He was convicted and spent half a year in jail.  But at the court hearing, where I testified, it was clear he was mentally ill.  I was glad he got his "just desserts" but in the end I didn't feel particularly vindicated.

In any case, yes, I know I am a man, not a woman, and that impacts my cap/ability to get about the city safely.

But after that incident and many others (muggings, etc.) I did not stop biking, or get a car, or stayed inside, etc. 

I did continue to learn how to take care of myself "more better."  (I remember reading research from the Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Science from the late 1980s or early 1990s about how young men are more frequent victims of crime because they frequent areas where crime is more likely to occur.  I was living truth of that theory...)

DC--way safer today than it was in the early 1990s or late 1980s--is still a city and you have to take precautions in order to be as safe as it is possible in a place where people rich and poor and some with a propensity to commit crimes live in close proximity.

Even today, I am reasonably fearless about riding in most places in DC, although there is no question I feel less comfortable in some places more than others (e.g., riding up Morris Road SE or on Mount Olivet Road NE always makes me feel like an outsider, even up Maryland Avenue NE to go over to Aldi, past all the "loiterers at the Starburst intersection, bus stop, and along the curb).  And being a white guy, stopping to take photos on Alabama Ave. SE or Good Hope Road SE can be pretty conspicuous, and not in a good way.

But I think the lady is wrong to make an irreversible decision about commuting by bicycle.

It's reasonable to change your behavior and actions (e.g., I finally stopped biking down K Street NE late at night by the old Thomas apartment building in the Sursum Corda area after many problems, but I didn't stop biking, what I did was divert around 2nd St. and ride around the back of the Gonzaga campus instead of on K St.).

But I don't think that has to mean stop biking, even if you're a woman. 

Even if I would argue, when you're less mobile because you're seven months pregnant, if you normally travel in a less safe area, it might be reasonable to not bike, until you're no longer less physically capable of taking care of yourself.

And I might even argue sometimes,  in certain places, I would argue it isn't safe to bike, and I wouldn't recommend it.  But Hill East, generally, isn't one of those areas.

(E.g., something similar came up in Petworth last year.  I wrote on a listserve that it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, being out on the street very late at night, drunk, with limited ability to take care of yourself, is a poor decision.  This was in response to a sexual assault.  I was challenged on this, about "blaming the victim" and I replied that in a city, to not take care of yourself increases the possibility of your becoming a victim and that precautions must be taken--like how I argue to "not use an ATM or buy gas late at night in cities, at least in particularly vulnerable, problematic areas.)

With regard to "globalizing" or "I'm never ever going to do X" in response to a particular event, some people in my extended circle have a habit of making these kinds of statements, and I am always perhaps too quick to make fun of them about it...

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At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well- this lady was also possibly from a part of the USA where there are not these sorts of problems or not in the concentration as we have here- Honolulu is about 300K in population so its really a smaller city that could easily fit into one part of this area's suburbs. Yes- I agree with you- if other women are paranoid and take up this woman's cry of anger and desperation then we really are in trouble because cycling is already unsafe for women- and not because of thug uglies or manaics but because of VC practices that omit women children and all normally self preservation minded people except crazy young skinny guys in lycra. This crime wave we are going thru is clearly a problem and I hope that these newcomers do not knee jerk and start leaving the city in droves. Police also need to ramp up their patrols and to stop eating so many donuts and twinkies and get on their own bicycles.I live in Hill east and it is getting nicer all of the time. And you are right- DC is a big city and this kind of thing is to be expected every so often. Even clean nice euro cities have these troubles.Bu then again europe has a real mental health system that we do not yet have here.

At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Jame said...

You don't understand this one, possibly because you are male. Women are trained for their entire lives to not do anything "risky," and that if something happens it is their fault.

And I did read your comments about putting the care of yourself first as victim blaming, because it is inline with our overall narrative of female safety. The first question is alway, what could this woman have done differently to avoid the situation, not why did this person (the perpetrator) commit the crime.

She probably has endure all sorts of public comment about riding a bike while dangerous, how she might fall down, or it isn't safe and so one. How parenthood requires toting your kid around in a car most of the time. And the first thing that happens to her when she engages in "unsafe bicycling while pregnant," is that she gets stabbed. Not only is she freaked out, everyone is blaming her at every angle for putting herself and unborn child at "risk." Sadly, it would be amazing if she bikes when the kid gets older.

All of the worse fears we have been trained to fear and prevent happened to her in one fell swoop, and she is most likely getting all of the blame.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


but I am not blaming her. Just saying that to make a "global" decision, to never bike commute again, based on this event as bad as it was, is not a sound decision.


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