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Ask the experts: Seeking commuter route safety solution

Ask the experts: Seeking commuter route safety solution
Cycling-friendly cities are on the lookout for solutions to combat rising criminal activity along bicycle routes. One reader asks the expert community for how to tackle this situation so people can ride their bikes safely without fear of crime.

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Our reader's question:

Hi, I live in the U.K. and close to a cycle track that runs between Bristol and Bath.The route was originally a railway and converted in the late 80’s. It’s gone from being a hidden gem to a well-used cycling commuter route. With its popularity, criminal activity has also thrived. There have been a number of incidents where gangs have stopped and beaten cyclists for their high-end expensive bikes.

The Police end up chasing shadows and very little is being done. A lot of people have asked for CCTV cameras, but the Police say they can’t afford the resource or time to monitor cameras. Having an intelligent surveillance system that’s configured to recognize different situations and flag alerts would reduce the amount of eyeballing conventional CCTV monitoring requires. Can you offer any advice or a solution?



The incidents against cyclists and runners on the Bristol-Bath mentioned in this letter have also been covered by news outlets in the UK. Path users have been mugged at knife point, punched and harrassed, with hotspots near Morrisons in Fishponds and Mangotsfield station. Social media comments show that people are cautious about using the path after dark. 

Our expert replies:

Sean Ahrens
Security Market Group Leader
Affiliated Engineers

Sean Ahrens, CPP, is a US-based workplace violence, premises liability, asset protection consultant and Security Market Group Leader at Affiliated Engineers. With over 20 years of experience, he has led strategic and security implementations in healthcare, transportation, government and commercial sectors.

His response:

Greetings from across the pond!

With interest, I read the comment from your reader regarding one-time fixes, which are technologically based. Certainly, technological security has a place within a security program, but not exclusively so. The reader submits that camera analytics can support police response, however, those analytics are only good if the camera is present to see the activity, the speed of the radio and the distance to a police officer as compared to where the incident is occurring. There are bigger facets at play with this, and thus a more holistic approach should be sought.

For instance, I noted that a lot of bikes are stolen in the U.K. Interestingly enough, there is an abundance of information out there regarding this environment for an aggressor to virtually scout or use “big data” to formulate an attack (i.e., bike route maps).
Bristol bike route    Source: 

Putting myself in the mind of an aggressor, if I were going to target someone, I would choose the leg of the path near Bristol, because of the significant elevation change, which would make my victim focused on the end of the ride, and moreover put them in a more weakened state as compared to the remainder of the path, which is predominately flat.

Additionally, I would do this during evening to conceal my approach or ambush. Amazingly enough, my review of articles showed that was exactly where/when many of these crimes are occurring -- Fish ponds, Lawrence Hill, Easton and Bruce Road. The root of the problem lies in the target-rich environment and predominately youths are committing these acts, which correlates with the residential proximity to these attacks as identified in this crime map around Bristol.
 March 2021 crime map around Bristol    Source:

From this video ( there are a number of possible opportunities to modify existing environment.
Ultimately, measures addressing security should be fundamentally rooted in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). This include modifying the built environment through:
  • Maintenance:
    • Cleaning up (removing graffiti), modernizing and opening these spaces, so that witness potential is more likely
  • Activity support:
    • Additional lighting
  • Natural surveillance:
    • Removal of choke points and ambush spots where people could be boxed in and escape less likely.
    • Remove walls and increase openess 
    • Additional vegetation clearing
    • Create more opportunities for activity support (introduce opportunities for more people to be on this path/near this path)
  • Natural access control:
    • Restricting access to bike paths beyond pre-determined approved pathways


Increased plain clothes patrols/biking. However, police need to know how to look like a biker as aggressors are smart. Hide the bulges on the coat/shirt, as they are a “tell”

Beyond environmental security, the following personal best practices should be applied:

  • ​Don’t travel at dusk/night – Why? Monsters
  • Listen to your gut.
    • Be conscientious of ambush spots or area where possible escape routes are limited:
      • Grading off path
      • Obstructions
      • Hiding in vegetation
    • Coming up to a blind corner, if something does not seem right, then perhaps come off the path and avoid that area.
  • Travel in packs
    • Make a party out of it. More people, more deterrent
    • Pace yourself with others on the path so that you are with more people - witnesses
  • Be aware of your surroundings (put the headphones away). Don’t get focused on the road, keep your head on a swivel. Bad people are looking for easy targets. Don’t be one.
  • Enter the path outside the areas where residential communities are in proximity. The denser the residential area, the higher the statistical probability of encountering an aggressor.
    • You’re at a disadvantage after climbing hills. Avoid elevations which may limit your innate ability for a “flight response”.
  • Don’t flaunt the wealth. If you're riding a £3,500 bike, then others will recognize it. Don’t carry a lot of cash or jewelry.
    • Use an older bike for these rides
    • Engrave/weld or otherwise introduce registration numbers on the bike, which can be used to establish ownership
    • Tag the bike with a RFID chip
  • Consider a duress application on your phone
If ambushed
  • Critical asset 101 -the bike can be replaced, you can’t!
  • Use slow, non-threatening gestures that are announced (i.e. I am getting off my bike, I am getting my wallet). Some people being accosted/mugged may react hastily because they want it over, but this could ultimately aggravate the violence – The Aggressor doesn’t know what you’re doing and are is likely under more stress than you.
Report it as soon as possible.

Our take:

We at like to talk about technology and how end-users can leverage this to enhance physical security. Yes, technology can be an invaluable tool for this situation and we'll explore this more in detail with the other expert responses. But this is only part, and not the complete answer. The addition of physical and operational controls enable a holistic approach that would yield better results. 


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