Networked Urbanism

design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

Design critics: Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, principals of Ecosistema Urbano

Think Big

As Boston continues on its mission to make the city into “a world-class bicycling city by creating safe and inviting conditions for all residents and visitors,” ridership and interest in cycling have all been on the rise. With new bike lanes, a new bike share program, and new cycling events coming to the city, we see a concerted effort to promote bicycling in Boston. However, with the rise cycling, we also see a rising trend in bike thefts as well. While ridership from 2007-2009 increased by 122%, bike thefts in Cambridge alone has gone up 54% from 2009-2010.

The issue of bike thefts is already a persistent problem in cities with robust biking culture such as London, where over 20,000 bikes were reported stolen in 2010 alone. Not only are the crimes detrimental to cycling culture in a direct way, but they also produce a type of psychological trauma. Studies have shown that 1 in 4 people who have had their bicycles stolen, never ride again.

Bike thefts as a phenomenon is complex and must be studied from all aspects, examining the different roles that factor into the narrative. From the bike owner’s perspective, we look at issues of bike security practices and theft deterrence and awareness. From the thief perspective, we must understand the risks they take and how they operate. Bike theft as crime is low priority for most police forces. Even when apprehended persecution is minimum, making bike theft a low risk/high reward crime. Finally, the aftermarket for stolen bikes should be examined. Prospective used-bike buyers create the market for stolen bikes. How are used/stolen bikes sold, and how can buyers be a part of the effort to reduce theft?


Start Small

The first stage of the project calls for data collection and research. I am in the process of building a website that will allow users to geotag where their bikes were stolen. We can begin to get a “heat-map” of high(er) theft areas, and begin to analyze their commonalities. Data will be user submitted. The website will both function as a research tool, and also as information for the general public and part of a possible recovery effort.


Act Now

Interviews with the Harvard Police Department will be conducted on understanding the criminal charges and the punishment for bike thieves, how the police combats this rising problem, current initiatives, as well as a request for crime statistics and possible police reports.


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