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Dozens of cyclists mugged on one stretch of London cycle route

Cyclist investigates claims that thieves target cyclists on London’s cycling network, and talks to a victim of mugging on a cycle route

Peter Stuart
25 Oct 2019

Cycle paths in East London, including some routes linked to or within TfL’s Quietway scheme, may be putting cyclists’ personal safety at risk as thieves exploit the secluded nature of cycling routes away from major roads.

One bike shop manager claims that a single stretch of the Greenway cycle path that travels between Stratford and Beckton, part of which forms TfL’s Quietway 22 cycle path, has been the site of 22 muggings within a period of several months.

‘In the last seven months we know of 22 people who have had their bikes taken from them on the Greenway,’ explained Richard Betts from Plaidstow-based bike shop Little Biker Boyz.

He described groups of four or more young men often perpetrating the attacks, using anything from baseball bats to knives. He also suggested they use broken glass to effectively immobilise cyclists with a punctured tyre.

‘As a result, we always tell customers not to ride through the Greenway or if they do, not to ride after 5pm,’ he added.

That said, criminals do not seem to restrict their attacks solely to quiet periods of the night, as incidents also appear to happen during daylight hours.

Bike stolen in broad daylight

Izzy, a 24-year-old London-based marketer (who did not wish to publish her surname), describes how she was ambushed by eight men on the Greenway, near to the Olympic Park, in the early afternoon.

‘I was cycling home from swimming when I ambushed by eight men on a cycle path behind the Olympic Stadium,’ she recalled to Cyclist. ‘It was broad daylight, and it seemed obvious to me they had planned to steal my bike. They threw me off my bike and stole my bag, but luckily I managed to keep my phone and run away from them.’

‘I’m petrified to go down the Greenway, and I’m advising everyone else to be very cautious riding down it,’ Izzy added.

Cyclist approached the Metropolitan Police for details on how many cyclists have been mugged on cycle paths near the Olympic Park and on the Greenway, and a spokesperson confirmed, ‘There have been a number of robberies of cyclists and pedestrians on and around the towpaths along the River Lea and the Lee Navigation waterways in recent months.

‘These robberies occurred in secluded areas hidden from public view; environments where opportunistic robbers can commit crime.’ The area is regularly patrolled by foot and by bike, the Met spokesperson added.

On one stretch of the route, now within the Quietway network, a sign placed on it in July 2018 states, ‘Armed attackers are targeting cyclists on the Greenway.’ Since the time of this notice, TfL has placed lighting and CCTV on the upgraded Quietway 22 route.

The nature of the attacks, targeting cyclists in secluded areas, may pose broader questions for initiatives such as the Quietways, which encourage cyclists away from busy roads, as to whether this risks a reduction in personal safety as criminals exploit quieter areas.

Quietways routes

The Greenway cycle path, where a high number of attacks have been reported, is partly within TfL’s Quietway cycle network.

TfL hopes to extend its network into the Olympic Park area, where some of these muggings have been reported, to cover the entire Greenway track. This upgrade would most likely lead to the installation of extra lighting and CCTV, which would be welcome for users of the Olympic Park’s sporting facilities to cycle to and from the venue safety.

Speaking about muggings on the Greenway stretch of cyclepath, TfL’s Head of Healthy Streets Investment and Delivery Nigel Hardy said, ‘We are not aware of any increases in crime along the Q22 route since it opened, but would ask anyone who experiences or witnesses a crime or any suspicious behaviour to report it to the police immediately.’

Whether in or outside of official TfL cycle networks, Izzy argued that there needs to be greater consideration for cyclists using quieter paths connected to London’s cycle network.

‘London is trying to be greener, but you can’t just provide the bike path, you need to provide safety as well,’ said Izzy. ‘TfL is in charge of helping Londoners travel, and this is me trying to travel in a fast (more environmentally friendly) way,’ she added.

Statistically, protected cycle routes have been shown to encourage more women in particular to cycle, but Izzy countered that the lack of security on these routes detracts heavily from the appeal.

‘Women have this extra awareness of the risks of being attacked,’ she said. ‘Any woman I’ve told has responded pretty strongly, usually saying: “I don’t want to be cycling at night, I don’t want that to happen to me.”

‘Lighting and CCTV will certainly help me feel safer, particularly as these guys are clearly used to doing this, so know that they can get away with it,’ Izzy said. ‘I also think adding signage like "this area is under surveillance" might help stop this happening in the future.’

Personal safety vs road safety

While the Met is aware of a number of such incidents involving cyclists, statistics on the number of crimes against cyclists specifically were not made immediately available to us.

On a recent FOI request on the number of assaults against cyclists, submitted in January 2018, the response explained, ‘There is no field on the crime reporting system to denote the victim being a cyclist at the time.’

This lack of classification may make it difficult for researchers and planners to fully assess risks to personal safety when directing cyclists away from major roads.

The Met suggested that the secluded nature of these paths plays a part in the risks to cyclists. ‘These robberies occurred in secluded areas hidden from public view; environments where opportunistic robbers can commit crime,’ a Met spokesperson said.

‘We would urge all cyclists to remain vigilant when cycling in remote areas,’ the Met spokesperson added.

Cycling UK’s Senior Campaigns & Communications Officer, Sam Jones, said that it was a matter of ‘personal risk’ rather than safety, but ‘we do agree “lack of eyes” can be a problem rather than the lack of motor traffic on quieter routes’.

Jones put some of this down to lack of local council oversight but also a lack of central government funding. ‘While not all authorities are guilty of doing it, putting cycle routes on towpaths and along quiet streets, behind stations and industrial parks is going to be cheaper than putting in place decent infrastructure,’ he said.

‘That’s not good enough though – and while local authorities shouldn’t be doing this, part of the problem is the lack of funding from central government to build the quality infrastructure in the first place.’

TfL's Nigel Hardy wants to see a high level of personal safety when cycling in London. ‘Everybody should feel safe whilst travelling in London, wherever they are, however they are travelling and whatever the time of day,’ he said.

London’s drive for improved infrastructure has had a significant effect on the uptake of cycling, with some routes seeing an increase of 200% in cycling levels since the introduction of segregated cycle lanes.

As TfL moves to create a complete and comprehensive network, though, the perception of personal safety could prove to be an important factor in achieving long-lasting change.

Visit the Met's crime prevention guide for advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of crime.

If you have been the victim of a robbery or have any information or concerns about crime or anti-social behaviour in your neighbourhood, call 101 or 999 in an emergency. Alternatively, report online here.

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