‘Bike theft is not inevitable’: Vancouver rolls out a cycle crime revolution

The bicycle was nothing spectacular – an ageing mountain bike price solely a couple of hundred – however Vancouver police officer Rob Brunt remembers it clearly. The proprietor, clad head-to-toe in low-cost inexperienced waterproofs, on her approach to work on the market on Granville Island, stopped Brunt to specific fear about her bike. It was locked to a close by rack, behind a automotive park and out of sight of passersby – a good place for thieves. It was her main mode of transport and he or she couldn’t afford to lose it.

The subsequent time Brunt noticed the lady, she was crestfallen. The bike had certainly been stolen, forcing her to overlook a few days of labor and get round on a borrowed trip. She was scraping collectively the cash for a new lock.

The girl’s story caught with Brunt. “I learned from that the price of a bike is not indicative of the value to the owner,” he says.

That was two years in the past. Today, a exceptional turnaround has taken place on Granville Island, which was on the time the worst spot in Canada’s worst metropolis for bike theft. Since then, bike thefts have declined by greater than 70%, an unbelievable enchancment in a downside that is pervasive in almost each main metropolis on the planet. Similar reductions throughout Vancouver are providing hope that one thing might be finished to fight a phenomenon that stymies the expansion of motorcycle tradition.

And the turnaround would possibly by no means had occurred if someone hadn’t stolen J Allard’s bike.

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Theft hotspot … Granville Island was the worst spot in Canada’s worst metropolis for bike theft. Photograph: Martin Child/Getty

Allard has grow to be a little bit of a folks hero in Vancouver’s cycle neighborhood for his tireless work to cease theft – however he doesn’t even reside within the metropolis. He makes his house throughout the US border in Seattle, the place he’s a large within the tech – a former Microsoft govt who led the crew that invented the Xbox. He was adjusting to life in Seattle after a high-profile departure from Microsoft a number of years in the past when he woke one morning to search out his beloved mountain bike gone.

The expertise rattled him. Not solely did he really feel victimised, he was bothered by the lacklustre police response. He began to look into why bike theft had come to look like a downside with out a resolution, accepted by so many as an unavoidable a part of city life.

Allard discovered a litany of obstacles which have prevented significant motion in opposition to bike theft: police are sometimes burdened with different priorities, whereas stolen bikes might be bought on-line with impunity. The fragmented bike hasn’t agreed on a standardised serial quantity, and riders themselves don’t at all times correctly lock their bikes. Allard says he couldn’t discover a single individual in North America working full-time to cease bike theft.

“I just couldn’t accept the answers to the questions I was asking after my bike was stolen,” he says over a beer at a Vancouver pub. “I reject the notion that getting a bike stolen is just part of riding a bike.”

But bike theft is rampant in cities all around the world. In London, about 20,00zero bikes are reported stolen yearly; 72 went lacking from Milton Keyes station alone final yr. Theft prices Portland $2m (£1.5m) a yr, and that’s simply the bikes that are reported stolen. A 2015 report by the Netherlands’ Central Bureau of Statistics acknowledged that the 630,00zero thefts reported to police constituted solely about 30% of the full that went lacking.

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J Allard with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in 2007. Photograph: Ted S Warren/AP

Allard determined to do one thing about it. What emerged was Project 529, an formidable scheme aimed toward stopping bike theft. The first section was a world app-based database of bikes geared to riders and police forces, supposed to each discourage theft and assist the return of recovered bikes. While on-line databases have existed for years, none had really caught on with North Americans, nor was there one shared by police forces throughout state or worldwide borders.

He rapidly discovered, nonetheless, that the issue went a lot deeper than encouraging riders to register bikes. A turning level got here when he was launched to Brunt, the veteran Vancouver beat cop who was engaged on bike theft after being posted to mild responsibility following an harm.

Brunt gave Allard a new perspective on the issue, and entry to a police pressure that was keen to attempt one thing new. Allard gave Brunt tech-industry ambition and virtually limitless power to fight the issue.

Together, the pair have turned Vancouver into a check case for a extra complete method to stopping bike theft. They have personally visited each bike store in Vancouver to debate the issue, and to encourage homeowners to register every bike they promote (Allard personally upgraded the gross sales software program for some outlets himself to make that simpler). They’ve visited neighborhood centres and arrange cubicles at festivals to teach folks and invite them to register. At Granville Island, which receives 10 million visits a yr, Allard and Brunt labored with homeowners to relocate bike racks to safer places, organised bike lock loans to prospects, and plastered the Project 529 brand on as many bikes as they might to discourage would-be thieves.

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A motorbike with out its rear wheel and seat in Ottawa. Photograph: Photawa/Getty Images

“I don’t know if anybody else could do this but J,” Brunt says. “He’s so smart and so good at so many things that it’s unbelievable. He’s always presenting different perspectives and analysing things in different ways. He just thinks differently.”

Across Vancouver, the variety of bike thefts fell 20% within the first yr the pair labored collectively. The subsequent yr, they fell one other 30%. On Granville Island in June 2015, earlier than the challenge began, 33 bikes had been stolen. In June 2017, that quantity had fallen to seven.

Their work is getting observed. Laura Jane of Vancouver bike-advocacy organisation Hub Cycling says theft was so dangerous within the metropolis that she heard of people that had given up driving out of worry of their rides being pilfered. She’s been heartened by the turnaround, which she credit to Allard’s work and renewed focus by the Vancouver police.

“Cycling needs to be convenient, and there will always be some risk of theft, but what’s encouraging is they have demonstrated some very clear steps in reducing bike thefts,” Jane says. “This shows that theft is not inevitable in a bike-friendly city.”

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Project 529 crew members on Granville Island, together with J Allard, proper, and Rob Brunt, entrance. Photograph: Dominic Schaefer Photography

Still, Allard’s enterprise is hardly a runaway success. He has funded it thus far utilizing proceeds earned from the sale of his trip house. Without extra metropolis police forces on board, and additional cash – registration to 529 Garage is free, however he additionally sells upgrades – the challenge’s future is unsure.

“For everything else, we have the magic formula, but not the money side of it,” Brunt says. “J is doing this out of his own pocket. He’s spent thousands of his own dollars here, and he’s not even Canadian. That’s kind of heartbreaking to me.”

Like any good tech-industry big-thinker, Allard has plowed forward thus far with out a lot thought to funding. “If I had a business plan, I wouldn’t be here,” he says with a chuckle. He acknowledges that Project 529 isn’t as “scalable” as he would possibly like, however he hopes Vancouver’s outcomes will encourage extra cities to take an curiosity.

He’s already signed up police forces in some commuter cities round Vancouver and is on the lookout for extra, however is eyeing one thing greater: Seattle, a metropolis the place a bike is stolen each hour, on common. If Allard can encourage his hometown police pressure to take the issue as critically as Vancouver does, he thinks he can put a dent within the cross-border gross sales that gas bike thefts in each cities.

“Do I want to cut bike theft by 50%? Yes, of course, but that may not be achievable,” he says. “But we can made a difference.”

As for that younger girl at Granville Island, Brunt remembers her story for one more cause. After first assembly her, he and Allard satisfied her to register her bike on the 529 Garage app. She did so, and uploaded some photographs of herself in her inexperienced waterproofs alongside the bike. Eventually, her bike appeared on Craigslist, and with the assistance of the police and the data within the app, it was recovered and returned to her. It’s a story with a completely happy ending.

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