Networked Urbanism

design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

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

Bikenapped is an online platform aimed at raising awareness and mapping bike thefts in Boston. For the public, Bikenapped serves as a place to get a clearer picture of the bike theft problem as well as a community to share your experiences with others. By offering a way for theft victims to reach out to each other, we can learn from our collective experience and band together to help find solutions. The data and narratives that the public provides are valuable as insight to help understand theft patterns and behaviors, as well as the immaterial value of cycling in our city. With better information we can help pursue policy change that can target the problem.


As Boston works towards becoming a world class bicycling city, promotion of cycling and cycling infrastructure has resulted in significantly rising ridership. However, this increase in cycling correlates with another phenomenon: the dramatic increase in bicycle thefts.

Bike theft is notoriously difficult to investigate, and stolen bicycles are equally difficult to recover. Theft victims often feel violated and helpless in the face of these crimes. There is nowhere for to speak out, no outlet for to take action. By gathering this community of individual voices, we can speak with a collective voice to shed light on the problem, and work together to find solutions.


One of the issues regarding bike theft lies in the shortage of data on these crimes. According to the reports from the Department of Justice, for every bike theft that is reported to the police, 4 or more thefts may have occurred. This severe underreporting prohibits us from seeing the full scope of the problem and from allocating adequate resources to tackle it. Bikenapped asks the community to participate in a user-generated mapping of theft incidents, to share information with our neighbors and our city.


Raising awareness and disseminating information is crucial in addressing bike thefts. We seek to take the data beyond the digital realm and into the real urban environment we live in. Bikenapped asks users to post notice at the physical place of the theft to warn others of what had happened. The information is not just relevant on the internet, it is more relevant to all the people who use the spaces where these thefts happen.


Change happens when we empower everyone to act. While bike theft is something most people experience alone, Bikenapped seeks to connect us with our neighbors and community. If we discover other people had their bikes stolen from the same place as ours, perhaps we can join together to demand for better safety measures in our neighborhood. If law enforcement is aware of certain zones of bike thefts, perhaps they are better equipped to police the area. If we know bikes have been stolen from a particular place, perhaps we will all be more vigilant to keep our neighborhoods safe from bike theft.


The project began through data collection. Through visiting police departments and combing through public log information, we can already begin to see the difficulty in just understanding the bike theft issue in Cambridge. In just the city of Cambridge, there are three separate police departments that holds jurisdiction over different areas: the Cambridge Police Department, the Harvard University Police Department, and the MIT Police Department. In addition the MBTA Transit Police oversees all transit stops. All of these police departments have separate reporting and record keeping methods, which are not collated into a single database, but rather organized internally. From any one source, we can only see a narrow segment of the larger problem. It became clear that in order to understand the issue, we needed a place where information can be collated and made accessible to the public.

Bikenapped became a platform to not merely disseminate information, but also encourage participation. Bike thefts suffer from severe underreporting due to the common perception that nothing will come from a police report. Though the rates of recovery are surely low – and Bikenapped makes no claims at increasing the chances of recovery – a report on Bikenapped is something theft victims and see. It is visible on the map, and visible to every person who comes to visit it. A piece of information or an experience where a victim had once suffered alone, is now directly and visibly a contribution to a larger story and effort.

The reaction to Bikenapped has been extremely positive. As different media outlets and cycling blogs began to pick up the story, reports and emails started coming in. We had over 2500 unique visitors within the first 12 days, many from beyond the borders of Boston/Cambridge, all the way from Portland and California. The issue surely struck a cord to people, and the support and response that Bikenapped received validated the need for its existence.


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