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Map: Where bikes are getting stolen + How Bike Index is changing the bike theft game

Screenshot from the Bike Index/BikeWise map.
Stolen bike reports from just the past month on Bike Index. Screenshot from the Bike Index/BikeWise map.
Past month of stolen bike reports to Seattle Police, from data.seattle.gov
Past month of stolen bike reports to Seattle Police, from data.seattle.gov

Bike theft has been crazy so far this spring. Or at least it seems that way.

Seattle Police received 581 stolen bike reports January through May, according to police report data at data.seattle.gov. But though that is a ton of bikes, that’s actually fewer than the 809 reports during the same period in 2014.

But perhaps what has changed most is the growing influence of Bike Index in helping to spread the work about thefts and, sometimes, help reconnect people with their stolen rides. In fact, comparing the SPD stolen bikes data with Bike Index reports shows that word has spread far and wide. A huge percentage of Seattle bike theft victims are using their service (you can also access Bike Index through our Stolen Bikes page).

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It’s also cool to see Bike Index partnering with BikeWise, a bike theft and crash reporting website started years ago by Cascade Bicycle Club and Phil Mitchell. Bike Index’s database is open to developers in case you have an idea for how to spread their listings even further.

We told you last month about an awesome recovery, involving a disco ball helmet, costumed birthday bike ride and a hero named Alex Cruse who spotted a stranger’s stolen bike after seeing it listed on Bike Index. Well, that great story is just one of many recently, and Bryan Hance at Bike Index has been tracking those great recovery stories in somewhat weekly updates.

King County Sheriff officers deserve special credit for a series of recoveries recently, as documented on Twitter:

While Craigslist has long been the medium of choice for moving stolen bikes, many stolen bikes in the Seattle area have been turning up on a Bellevue-based classifieds website called Offerup recently. So add that site to your list of places to look if your wheels get stolen. Hopefully they will do what Craigslist refuses to do and take action to fight stolen bike sales on their site (requiring sellers to post serial numbers and running checks with Bike Index would be a start!).

By the way, did you know you can donate to help keep Bike Index going? It’s a very valuable service run by just a couple people passionate about stopping bike theft. If you have some cash to contribute to the cause, kick it their way.

So where are bike thefts happening? Sadly, kind of everywhere. But the center city and north/northwest Seattle are getting hit hardest it seems, while northeast and Rainier Valley are getting a relative pass. Here’s an interactive map of data from January 1 — June 10:

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14 responses to “Map: Where bikes are getting stolen + How Bike Index is changing the bike theft game”

  1. Peri Hartman

    Is there any data on how bikes are stolen and how secure they were? I’ve seen bikes locked to various degrees. Sometimes just the top bar of the frame, sometimes just the front wheel, sometimes the frame and a wheel or both wheels. I even saw one “locked” to a parking sign with the cable loose enough it could be pulled over the top of the sign.

    Bottom line: how likely are our bikes to be stolen if locked well.

    1. Dan

      My Surly was stolen off a Sound Transit 510 at 4th/Seneca at a bus stop. Bold thief grabbed it right off the rack even as the driver started honking the horn. Caught my attention and I raced after him, but he had the downhill advantage. It was my good fortune to have a bike shop owner in town a few days later, strolling in a park with his toddler, who followed his gut instinct and grabbed what he was able to confirm was a stolen bike.
      Sound Transit needs to improve the locking mechanism in bus racks to minimize thefts like this.

      1. Van

        I used to worry a lot about my bike getting stolen off the front, especially since I’m short and its hard for me to see the front rack once I get to a certain point on the bus. Or when you have to keep moving back to make room for other passengers. Now that I have a folding bike I can take it in the bus, but I don’t see that being a widespread solution to theft. Most people do not want to be in constant contact with their bike. I’ve heard of a few other folks getting their bikes stolen off the front of the bus, if only recently. I wonder if its a new trick thieves picked up since drivers usually ask you to remove your U-Lock from the bike when its on the rack.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        One option for peace of mind is to lock your wheel to your frame using your u-lock while waiting at the bus stop. Then if someone does steal it (which is VERY rare, though not unheard of), they can’t bike away with it. The lock can scrape the paint on your bike depending in the lock and bike, though, so this might not be appealing to everyone.

  2. bidab

    Always properly qualify and contextualize your data! Neither map gives a complete visualization of where bikes are getting stolen. The BikeIndex map shows where bikes owned by computer-literate people with internet access are getting stolen. The city map shows where bikes owned by people with faith in law enforcement and the time and ability to file a police report are getting stolen. That may be why neither map shows many thefts south of I-90.

    That’s not to say the data aren’t interesting or useful! But we should be cautious in assuming that the data alone tell the whole story.

    1. Tonrix

      Exactly. Well said!

  3. Todd

    I don’t know how many of these thefts occur indoors but I’ll bet it’s a fraction of a percent. If you’re leaving your bike outdoors — locked or no — you’re taking a chance. I never give the clowns the opportunity.

  4. Matthew Snyder

    Has anyone mapped where stolen bike recoveries happen? Maybe they’re so infrequent that the map would not be informative… but maybe I underestimate how often bikes are recovered. If you do have a bike stolen (as several friends have recently), it might be nice to know where you might go looking for it. Even just having an updated list of the most obvious, open-air chop-shops would potentially be helpful.

  5. Bryan Paetsch

    We need more severe penalties for bicycle theft, no matter the value of the bike or part of the bike that is stolen. Maybe we need a law requiring all sellers to post the serial number, and requiring third parties like craigslist to require it.

  6. Southeasterner

    One of you techy people need to develop some sort of GPS Tracking chip that can be welded (or in some other way securely fastened to the inside of a frame tube) and then tracked from some computer program or app. Charge people $5 per month and you should be golden. Added bonus if you could have it sync with Strava or MapMyRide to track trips!

    1. bidab

      There’s SpyBike by Integrated Trackers, but I think somebody could do it better. Especially with the integration you’re talking about!

  7. Lisa

    Last night a bike got stolen at Frelard pizza co. They don’t have bike racks yet, so a few bikes (including mine) were leaning against the barrels at the outside of the beer garden. (mine had the wheel locked to the frame). Super sketchy guy crosses the street, fiddling with stuff in his pockets, which kind of had me worried he was up to worse than stealing stuff. Looked around, popped in the restaurant for a second, came out, jumped on a bike and tore off. We were too slow to react because we hadn’t been watching that particular bike- it was obscured from our view where we were sitting and we were keeping our eyes on mine and another one we could see.

    Moral of the story- people will just run off with your bike, in broad daylight, with tons of people sitting around. I’m fairly certain he saw me watching him, too.

  8. Van

    With my old bike I would lock the wheel to the frame before I loaded it on the front, but I was told to take the U-lock off about fifty percent of the time. There seems to be mixed messages from Metro about what is and is not acceptable as far as leaving your U-Lock on the bike while its on the bus rack.

  9. Harrison Davignon

    Good job to police and other kind people returning bicycles. We should surveillance watching bicycles as well and more bike racks. Better locks do make a difference. I have a heavy duty u lock, nice bicycle and it has not been touched by thieves. A heavy fine of $250 for the first stolen bicycle offence, $500 dollars the second time and jail the third offence, should scare thieves from steeling bicycles.

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