This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 136.
A group of unruly teenagers has been harassing people along the Trumpington Busway and DNA path. Most reports have been of minor incidents: blocking the path and rude behaviour. This escalated on 4 January when a Sanger Institute scientist was followed and attacked by several of the youths. Anyone with information about these attackers is advised to contact the police regarding case number CF0008590118. If you see this group please turn around, ensure your own safety and call 999 to report it.
These types of crimes are disquieting to everyone in Cambridge because quiet streets, abundant parks and open spaces are important features of the city, and essential components of our safe cycle route network. Social and personal safety along these routes is just as important as protection from cars, but it’s a much more difficult concept to evaluate because it is not only about physical design but also about psychological aspects, the way people perceive and behave in their surroundings. Different people have different thresholds and opinions about what they feel is safe. Features such as lighting, connections to other routes, lack of blind corners, being overlooked by buildings, landscaping and spaciousness all have some effect. There is no single answer to be found in design, but what all safe urban routes have in common is a comfortable number of people who use them, especially after dark.
Experience in the city suggests that some spaces are widely considered to be more socially safe than others. For example, Midsummer Common has several cycle routes crossing it and darkness does not seem to impinge much on their usage, while well-lit Fen Road is frequently a problem area. Relatively speaking, Cambridge is a safe city and we are fortunate in that regard. The police can’t be everywhere (and shouldn’t be). Design can help make public space more attractive to people and less conducive to crime. Ultimately, we rely on the broader community: people who care about our streets, open spaces and paths and help to ensure that they are safe, pleasant and well-used places. In these recent instances, I am proud of the way people have rallied together. At the scene, passing people stopped to help, and online discussion groups have shared tips and clues towards identifying and stopping the attackers. Supporting each other is how we keep our shared public spaces in the city safe and enjoyable.