Friday, January 13, 2012

Bicycling in America

Many American transportation experts (notably John Pucher of Rutgers) argue for greater bicycle use in the U.S. and hold up some of the European cities as examples.  Here is a YouTube re how the Dutch did it (H/T David Boyce).

But whereas I have argued that many of the European cities have ever more similarities to U.S. cities (increasing auto use, more suburbanization than ever), I do not buy the bicycle argument because there are also important differences.

Here is a very sad story about bicycle theft in the U.S.  It is the story that most planners and enthusiasts ignore.  It is chilling and depressing (H/T The Browser).

The author keeps looking at a 17-minute surveillance video of his bike being stolen -- on a busy NYC street.  Then he launches into a discussion of some context (below).  But read the whole thing and how it all ends.
I WANT MY BIKE BACK. So do we all. With the rise of the bicycle age has come a rise in bicycle robbery: FBI statistics claim that 204,000 bicycles were stolen nationwide in 2010, but those are only the documented thefts. Transportation Alternatives, a bicycle advocacy group in New York City, estimates the unreported thefts at four or five times that—more than a million bikes a year. New York alone probably sees more than 100,000 bikes stolen annually. Whether in big biking cities like San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, or in sport-loving suburbs and small towns, theft is “one of the biggest reasons people don’t ride bikes,” Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, told me. Although bike commuting has increased by 100 percent in New York City during the past seven years, the lack of secure bike parking was ranked alongside bad drivers and traffic as a primary deterrent to riding more. It’s all about the (stolen) bike; even Lance Armstrong had his custom time-trial Trek nicked from the team van in 2009 after a race in California. Not every bike is that precious, but according to figures from the FBI and the National Bike Registry, the value of stolen bikes is as much as $350 million a year.

That’s a lot of bike. Stolen bicycles have become a solvent in America’s underground economy, a currency in the world of drug addicts and petty thieves. Bikes are portable and easily converted to cash, and they usually vanish without a trace—in some places, only 5 percent are even reported stolen. Stealing one is routinely treated as a misdemeanor, even though, in the age of electronic derailleurs and $5,000 coffee-shop rides, many bike thefts easily surpass the fiscal definition of felony, which varies by state but is typically under the thousand-dollar mark. Yet police departments are reluctant to pull officers from robberies or murder investigations to hunt bike thieves. Even when they do, DAs rarely prosecute the thieves the police bring in.
“It’s just a low priority, to be honest with you,” says Sergeant Joe McCloskey, a bike-theft specialist with the San Francisco police department who estimates that, of the scores of bicycle thieves he has caught, not one did jail time for the crime. Whether police go hard after thieves often depends on whether the officers themselves are passionate riders, like McCloskey, who at one point during our conversation geeked out over his Pivot Mach 5 mountain bike. (“The guy named it Mach 5 because, you know, Speed Racer drove a Mach 5.”) Departments that can muster a peloton, like those in San Francisco, Portland, and Houston, are generally more proactive. By contrast, NYPD officers openly discouraged me from filing reports on the stolen bicycles mentioned in this article, probably because their precincts are judged by crime stats.