What if Kingston…

Bike Theft, Kingston, OntarioAfter graduating in 2004, Danielle and I continued to reside in our very affordable student rental on the fringe of the Queen’s ghetto, which was a necessity while we were paying off our respective loans.  Like many of the other tenants therein, we stored a few personal effects in the common hallway such as our bikes, winter boots, recycling bins and so forth.  It had proven to be a safe arrangement for over two years, thanks to the buzzer system that controlled access to the building, as well as the fact that we knew a majority of the other tenants.  Unfortunately, security was compromised on one fateful evening, while thieves made off with the change from the laundry machine, as well as Danielle’s prized mountain bike.

Despite reporting the incident to Kingston City Police, Campus Security, and local pawn shops, the bike was never seen nor returned.  Years later, we are still on the lookout, hopeful that it will turn up and we’ll be able to make a spectacular citizens arrest, and deal a decisive blow to the local stolen bicycle gang.  When we reported the theft to the authorities, we were advised that bike thieves are very active in Kingston, and due to the shear volume of incidents, very little effort is put into recovery.  Sadly, bike thefts remain commonplace on and around campus, as The Journal reported that there have been well over 200 bikes stolen this year, while there were 392 in 2007, 270 in 2008 and 291 in 2009 respectively.  Admittedly though, those numbers reflect city-wide bike thefts, and aren’t specific to campus, or the student housing area.  So what if Kingston took bike thefts more seriously?

While it would be naive to think that the Kingston City Police could put an end to bike thefts once and for all, it would be nice to see them catch a bike thief once in a while.  The trend of stolen cycles is not unique to the Limestone City, as Toronto has an exponentially larger problem, which is similarly concentrated around their university and college campuses.  Friends of the G20 protesters reported a significant drop in bike thefts since the introduction of their bait bike program back in 2006.  This project involves bikes that have been equipped with hidden GPS units, which are tracked by authorities who respond by apprehending culprits red handlebar-ed.  While I’m not privy to the inner workings of our police force, what’s stopping us from activating a bait bike program of our own?

As we strive to become Canada’s most sustainable city, we need to do more to protect bike racks, so that current riders can continue cycling without incident. Furthermore, a decrease in incidents could help convince others to start riding, or make establishing a bike sharing network more attractive to the business community.  Despite the fact that it will be December tomorrow, many Kingstonians are taking advantage of the lack of snow and continuing to safely ride their bikes.  And on a related note, today marks the last day of the 2010 rack and roll program offered by Kingston Transit.  Wouldn’t it be nice to start the 2011 cycling season with a few arrests so that bandits become aware of the consequences for bike theft in the Limestone City?

Do you have an unfortunate experience related to bike theft, or a possible solution you’d like to share? If so, please drop off your comments below.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

15 thoughts on “What if Kingston…

  • I would suggest that the bigger problem is with people failing to properly secure their bicycle. You need a chain/thick cable lock AND a solid metal u-lock at minimum. Too many people settle for a cheap and inexpensive thin cable lock that takes a thief all of 3 seconds to cut off, and sadly if you make it that easy, they will target you. The goal is to ensure that the amount of time necessary for a thief to remove all of your security measures makes it more work/risk than it is worth.

    Humorous video on how to lock your bicycle properly: .

    Avoid leaving your bicycle out overnight too – mine is in my kitchen overnight, since I simply refuse to leave it outside on Princess at the mercy of thieves, or worse (and more likely), drunken idiots who will kick it in.

    I like the GPS sting operation idea though, since it wouldn't cost all that much to implement, and 90% of the bicycle thefts are probably committed by a group of people you can count on one hand.

    • You're probably right in that a lot of people don't secure their bikes, or they have locks that are too easy to break. I suppose some are also riding junkers and don't see the point in locking them up or spending money on a lock, but that still doesn't justify theft. The flip side can get equally ridiculous though, when you get past removing your seat and wheels, some enthusiasts spend an arm and a leg on locks. I recall seeing one that would give you cash in the value of your bike if it was stolen while using their product, although I'm not clear on the details of how that worked. The bike lock that climbs light poles, and bending lock are two of the more costly options that I've come across. I think your advice of bringing the bike into your actual residence is one of the best, ie safest and most economical. Still though, doesn't help when you get to point b etc.., unless you take it indoors everywhere you go.

  • Personally, I beleive that the police should do more to try and recover stolen bikes. I love the idea with a hidden GPS. However, the phrase "Canada's most sustatainable city" should not make a difference when dealing with stolen property

    • You're right, but it's kind of one of those cart and horse situations. Aside from creating more bike lanes and educating riders and drivers, one of the best things we can do to promote cycling is equipping our police department with the right tools to apprehend thieves. This can help make cycling more reliable in that folks who choose to do so know that their bike is probably going to be there after a day in the office, classroom etc… It's not the be all and end all when it comes to getting more bikes on the road, but every little bit helps, and so goes our bid to become the most sustainable.

      • Bike lanes don't help unless they are actually physically separated and there is a whole infrastructure of lights and priorities and a culture that supports cycling (as in the Netherlands). Drawing lines on the road only creates a false sense of security and is a massive waste of public money – see the UK example, where cyclists refer to them as 'cycle farcilities' and they generally get treated as extra parking spaces, or even worse, encourage cyclist to filter up the inside of large vehicles at junctions and get themselves killed. Local authorities love them because they are visible and they can say they are doing something for cyclists, without actually doing very much. Those of us who cycle all the time don't want such tokenism, we want safety and respect on the road.

  • I agree that more should be done not less, the bike bait idea sounds great! I wonder if there's less incentive to do anything because of the money generated from the police bike auction every year….. just wondering…. I only buy my kids used bikes just in case… $30 from a guy round the corner from me.

    As for Ryan, I've seen and read of plenty of instances where entire bike racks were stolen with bikes attached, tough to defend against that one no matter which lock you have. Indoors is a great at home solution. Everywhere else, we need highly visible bike racks. Montreal has neat bike rings on their parking meters, neat solution.

    • Not sure if you missed it, but I already linked to this idea in the 2nd last para in the post above. I doubt that bike sharing services are the solution to Kingston's bike theft problem, as a lot of us already have bikes and there's no real incentive for us to pay to be regular riders. Still though, BIXI and the rest are more for casual users, tourists and such. Not to suggest that Kingston's bike theft rates are to blame for the lack of a such a program here, but fewer incidents would only serve to help attract one during the tourist season.

      • Kingston's also simply too small for a BIXI type system to work.

  • It might actually be worth going to the cop shop and digging through their recovered bike locker. When the new station first opened, I had a tour due to my LEED interest, and there was a HUGE room, with what I would guess was 200 or so bikes, stored in the garage area.

    I remember when I was a kid, my parents used to make us register our bike registration numbers with the local police, just for this purpose. I don't know if this is still done, but perhaps it should be. Ideally then, the police could even maintain a searchable database on their website, of bike colour, make, model and registration number. Just thinking… It would certainly not be difficult. The police recover a bike, they log that info, and then anyone can search for their bike through the database.

    • How does one go about registering a bike? I spent some time on both the Kingston Police site and the OPP site and I can't find anything that even mentions it. Any ideas? Or do I have to go there?

      • I have no idea Danielle, but I ought to look into it. I ride a pretty pricey trail bike (usually not around town though) and it would be awful to have it ripped off, especially without it being properly insured, or registered.

        Just called the Police Station and asked. Here is the response. There used to be a bylaw in the City of Kingston that stipulated that bikes should be registered with the police station. However, that bylaw expired about 4-5 yrs ago (give or take 2 yrs), and since that time, the police does not do it anymore. Their recommendation therefore was, not surprisingly, take a photo of the bike and document the year, make, model, colour, distinguishing features, value, etc, and especially the serial number. At least with that information you can rightfully expect to go to the station and retrieve a stolen bike (if they have it). Aside from that, it sound like there is nothing much that can be done.

  • Before I say what I'm about to say, I should write a disclaimer: I'm a serious cyclist, I can't drive, and bikes are my mode of transport. I cycle all year in all weathers.

    So it goes without saying that I don't like bike thieves or having bikes stolen. The problem with 'bait bike' programs in how they often operate is that they tend to catch the low-end thieves, the unfortunate drug addicts who steal opportunistically to fund their habits, instead of the organised gangs (oh, yes, they do exist). This is especially true if the bait bikes are left unlocked – which in some programs, they are.

    My observation so far is that Kingston has a really tiny bike theft problem compared with almost everywhere in the UK, where I lived for most of the last 20 years before coming here. I lived in Oxford for a few years, and my rate there was a bike per year lost. You budgeted for it, and bought cheap bikes. I wouldn't leave a bike outside anywhere overnight, but otherwise, it's pretty good here. And the bike parking isn't bad either.

    The big problems for cyclists in Kingston, IMHO, are the appalling road surfaces, dangerously-designed junctions, poorly-timed traffic signals, and inattentive drivers who are not used to cyclists and do not realise that some of us travel a bit faster than they seem to believe possible. Oh, and also the idiots on bikes (I hesitate to call them 'cyclists') who do not use any lights or reflective gear after dark and even cycle on the wrong side of the road against traffic after dark…

    • !00% agree with regards to the road surfaces. I have almost been in some horrid accidents due to massive potholes being rendered unavoidable due to traffic, and had to replace a lot of innertubes for the same reason.

      Good pet peeves, although my biggest one is cyclists not obeying the rules of the road. The traffic signals apply the same to people on bicycles as they do to cars. Same goes for cycling against traffic. Also, cycling on streets where it isn't safe to do so, when there are far better alternatives one street over. One anyone in their right mind would cycle down lower Princess street is beyond me, when Queen street is one street over and much safer.

      • I am very much in my right mind and I cycle down lower Princess all the time – mainly because I am going to somewhere on lower Princess! I am unclear what makes it so unsafe for cyclists…

        IME, the keys to cycling safely are to know and observe the rules of the road, be visible and cycle with confidence. Being afraid and avoiding streets where is both legal and safe to cycle does no favours to the safety of other cyclists, nor indeed to drivers who need to see cyclists regularly and expect them to be on the streets where they are fully entitled to be.

        (Mind you, it would still be better for everyone if lower Princess was pedestrianised, but that's another story!)

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