Why are people being assaulted along the Schuylkill River Trail?

With three assaults in the last three weeks, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson convenes a meeting about improving safety in the area.

Will the Schuylkill River Trail be getting cameras? Perhaps improved lighting or mile markers? The city is considering taking those measures and others as community leaders try to find the best ways to protect people using the trail after a recent spate of criminal behavior.

In the last two and a half weeks, three women have been groped while running along the Schuylkill River Trail. The assaults were similar. They happened on the stretch of the trail between the South Street Bridge and the Art Museum, and the suspected culprits were a large group of teenagers on bicycles.

Those incidents compare to others reported on social media and the local runners’ online community Run 215 in the late summer. In the same stretch of trail, three bike robberies were also reported. Police are have identified 25 to 50 juveniles who could have been involved in the recent assaults and are still looking to solve them. But talk is already turning to prevention.

“I would say there’s concern,” said Jon Lyons, president of Run 215. ” (But) I don’t want people to think if they step on the trail this is going to happen.”

This afternoon, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson led a public discussion at City Hall on possible safety measures. City leaders and members of the running and biking community suggested ideas for how they could best protect citizens running along the trail, recently named the No. 1 urban trail in the country.

While no dates were set for implementing any suggestions, Johnson said they wanted to act quickly. Another meeting will likely happen in a month. Here’s a rundown of the specific measures they discussed.

Increased police presence

Captain Raymond Convery said more uniformed and undercover police have been riding along the trail since the most recent incidents, particularly between the South Street Bridge and the Art Museum. The addition of more police is the only action that has already been taken in response to the crimes. Other measures are still in the discussion stage.

Mile markers

Many urban trails have mile markers designating positions on the trail every quarter-mile or even to a more precise measurement. The Schuylkill River Trail doesn’t have that many. When these recent crimes were reported, police were not able to determine the exact location quickly enough. Talk centered on installing mile markers that also include instructions of what to do in case of emergencies. The hope is they would allow people take proper steps if an incident occurs and to give police a more precise location to investigate.

Leanne Mullins-Hudak, a member of Run 215, said the markers would be beneficial not only for locating possible bad behavior but in identifying people who have suffered accidents on the trail.

Joseph Syrnick, president and CEO of the Schuylkill River Development Group, said mile markers could be put in place quickly — within a few months — if a decision is made to install them.

Improved lighting

Some of the lights work on the Schuylkill River Trail and some of them don’t. Michael DiBerardinis, commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Department, said they would look into improving the lighting system on the trail but the cost could be an issue.

Cameras

Police already have many cameras positioned throughout the city, although none are on the Schuylkill River Trail. DiBerardinis said installing cameras would be possible if the police wanted them. Convery said quality cameras might be too expensive and wouldn’t do any good if they were positioned throughout the trail. He said the best idea might be to a few in strategic locations.

The Schuylkill River Trail only has a few main entry points, and Bob Previdi, policy director of the Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition, suggested installing them there. Johnson said he wanted to further explore the topic of cameras by seeing how recreation centers have been using them.

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