Vancouver Province column: If we really want to go green, why don’t we solve this bike-theft mess?

The Province
Monday, October 22, 2007

Just over a year ago, I fell victim to an all-too-common Vancouver crime. I walked out of my office one afternoon to realize that my trusted commuter bike had been stolen in broad daylight.
At the time, I was shocked, angry — and out a cool $1,200.

For weeks, I stewed over the thought of some thugs hawking my ride for a night’s worth of crack cocaine or using it for their own recreational pursuits.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my anguish over stolen wheels.

Local filmmaker Aren Hansen was so incensed after his bike was stolen that he turned his bitterness into art.

Hansen’s new documentary about this city’s bike-theft epidemic, White Vans, was shown at the recent Vancouver International Film

Festival. And now he has local victims of this crime coming out in droves.

Hansen shows how this criminal undertaking isn’t just the work of amateur crooks.

Much of it is perpetrated by sophisticated criminals who either transport the bikes out of the province or overseas –or to “chop shops” where they get a fresh coat of paint or are disassembled for parts.

For most victims, there is no recourse, either in the form of compensation or old-fashioned street justice.

“You are not going to get your bike back,” says Hansen matter-of-factly.

“You do not have insurance that will cover the cost of a new one; you will never meet the thief and get to pound on him.”

How bad is the problem?

Police say that, in the city of Vancouver alone, there were 1,600 bike thefts reported in 2006. This year, the number is already over 1,100 and counting.

But that only represents a fraction of what’s going on, since most victims don’t even bother reporting the crime.

It’s time that our politicians and bureaucrats woke up to this mess.

In California, cities such as Santa Barbara and Long Beach are fighting back by investing in secure bike-parking garages, complete with smart-card key access.

Back in Vancouver, all we seem to hear about is this region’s bike-friendly reputation. So the free-for-all for thieves continues.

The cruel irony is that some folks continue to insist that we should embrace the “one less car” lifestyle and commute on bikes to lessen our environmental footprint.

But by going green, Vancouver cycling converts are quickly finding themselves in the red when their cruiser or 12-speed falls prey to a pair of wire cutters.

One statistic uncovered by Hansen in the research for his short film should be particularly alarming to local cycling advocates: One-third of these theft victims may never purchase another bike again.

I eventually coughed up for another bike after my own run-in with this troubling trend.

But given the cost involved, I can hardly blame those who have thrown in the towel and made a hasty retreat back to their car keys or transit passes.

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One comment

  1. I completely agree. I used to live in Vancouver and had a bike stolen mid-day from my building’s bike room. The bike was in a locked bike room, inside a locked parking garage, and it itself was locked to a rack on the wall. The thiefs broke through all three security measures, including breaking a metal wall on the bike room, and bending the U-Lock using the bike frame for leverage. If I had a gun, and I was there, no doubt I would have shot those bastards. I now live in Seattle, where this kind of crime is very rare. I do not take any of my bikes to Vancouver unless I am staying at a hotel where I can leave them while I am not riding. They are not even safe locked on my car’s roof rack in Vancouver. Part of the problem is the apathetic population in Vancouver, who could witness all kinds of crime, and can’t even be bothered to call 911.

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