Police probe attacks on bicyclists in Charles Village

The city's bicycle and pedestrian planner wants a "bike boulevard" to run up Guilford Avenue through Charles Village, an area already filled with commuters using pedal power. But a series of attacks on cyclists and several bike-jackings are creating concern.

Police had arrested three people in two bike robberies this month and thought they had a handle on the situation until three young men pushed Michael Byrne off his Blue Falcon bike Wednesday night at North Charles and 20th streets.

Police said one of the men rode the bike away, and a new search for suspects has commenced.

"We knew the arrests couldn't completely quell the problem," said Maj. Ross Buzzuro, the commander of the Northern District. "We have increased deployment."

The attacks — which include several instances of harassment and rock-throwing, many that were not reported to police — generated discussion on Facebook among bike commuters and the city's pedestrian planner, Nate Evans.

Evans said in an interview that he has picked up on "a pattern of attacks on cyclists" in recent weeks in blocks bordered by North and Guilford avenues and Charles and 25th streets. He's heard many of the stories at meetings as he plans a bike route on Guilford.

"It sounds like in a couple of the attacks, the victims were overcome by a number of assailants," he said. Most occurred on the evening commute, between 5:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

The area essentially divides neighborhoods north of downtown and upper Charles Village, and is almost unavoidable for anyone commuting from downtown to points north. It's six blocks south from where Johns Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn was robbed and fatally stabbed last month as he walked home from the train station.

"That area of Lower Charles Village has always been a dangerous area to ride around in at night," said one bicyclist who didn't want his name used. He was a victim two years ago at nearly the same spot where Byrne was attacked. "It's very dark and just kind of a no-man's land," the young man said.

"Unfortunately, it's not like a lot of people can avoid these routes," said Evans, who when designing bike routes charts potholes, road conditions, congestion and crime.

He noted that Guilford and Charles "are some of the safest streets going through that area" and he recommended that "if you see someone coming after you, if you have to go through a red light or a stop sign to avoid being attacked, then keeping safe needs to be the priority."

Byrne said he was riding home to Charles Village from work as music editor for the City Paper and was going "at a pretty good clip" when three kids stepped off a corner and knocked him down. "It was like a combination of getting punched and tackled," the 30-year-old said.

He said one youngster "screamed at me not to get up and somebody else took off on the bike." He said he suffered a bruised rib but otherwise wasn't hurt. He said the bike is old and might be worth $300 or $400.

Police said the description of the attackers is vague. Byrne said he regularly commutes through the area and that he's never before been attacked there. "I don't think it's a bad area," he said of the heavily trafficked streets. "It's not a place where [you] think, 'Oh, something bad is going to happen here.'"

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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