Citywide Bike Thefts in D.C. Decline Over Four Years, Yet Ward 6 Remains a Hot Spot

As D.C.’s biking community has grown, the rash of thefts has increased over the last few years as well. Despite the citywide decline in reported thefts, Ward 6 cyclists continue to report an increase in thefts.

From 2007 to 2010 (the latest available and completed data sets), 2,454 bikes were reported stolen around the district with wards 2 and 6 as the leading hotspots.

In 2009, the two wards tied with a total of 170 bikes stolen. Then in the following year Ward 6 surpassed all of the wards with 372 robberies reported to D.C. Police – the highest total during the four-year period.

Most of the thefts were reported in the Capitol Hill area, but also around Mt. Vernon Triangle, the business improvement districts North of Mass. Ave, NoMa, and the Capitol Riverfront. As the number of stolen bikes steadily dropped in Ward 2, reports of stolen bikes in Ward 6 increased without fail each year.

A more recent victim of bike theft, however, lives in Ward 3’s Woodley Park. Ward 3 had the fourth highest percentage rate of bicycles stolen at 10.2% over the time period, behind wards 6, 2, 1, respectively.

Frank Finamore, 45, a small business owner had his bike stolen from his home. Finamore said his five-year old bike was worth around $500 and he stored it underneath his sun-room porch, unsecured.

(Before the D.C.’s police department discontinued its 2007 “narrative” portion, its findings show that 30 bikes (more than 5%) out of the 629 bicycles reported stolen that year were left unlocked or unsecured on balconies, porches, sidewalks, inside of garages and the back of a car rack.)

He called the police as soon as he was certain it wasn’t misplaced. Police officers came to his home, took a report and then they were gone.

I don’t expect to hear back from the police” Finamore said, laughing at the prospects of getting his bike back.

Finamore said he primarily rode his bike for fun, trips to coffee shops and exercise – not as a means to commute to work or run errands. Still, he was “bummed” about not having it, since he liked to ride when it was warmer.

Greg Billing, the outreach and advocacy for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, WABA, said his organization hear about robberies frequently. Billing said WABA teaches Metro-area bikers to correctly lock their rides in highly visible places, preferably near surveillance cameras if possible.

He said cyclists should use a combination of a U-lock and a “heavy-duty” (i.e. armored) lock cable or two U-locks to secure both their frame and wheels.

If you only lock your wheel, your front-wheel especially, even if they’re a bolt-on wheel, it can be just unscrewed from the frame and the back-wheel can be taken,” he said.”What you’re trying to do is the make the bike challenging and a lot of work to steal.”

He added that no bike is lock-proof: Any bike can be stolen.

Usually what happens is somebody will have a bike stolen and then they have have no information about the bike,” Billing said, “They don’t have the serial number or any accessories to identify it. They don’t even have a picture of it.”

Billing said WABA offers printable online record form for bikers to fill out and a complete record, in case a robbery occurs. Compared toFinamore, he had a more optimistic outlook on the possibility of recovering a stolen bike.

It has happened,” he said, “They [the police] can check their database with the bikes they recover to get them back to their rightful owners.”

District bikers can register their bikes with the National Bike Registry database with a minimum fee of $10 for a single bike for a ten-year coverage.

Patrick Symmes‘ personal narrative (“Who Pinched My Ride?”) in Outside magazine spotlighted a problem few bike purchasers consider: Inadvertently supporting bike thieves by buying a used bike.

Doesn’t matter if the bike costs a $100 or $10,000 , they’re gonna get sold for $100 to $200, depending what’s on them”, Billing said. “People who are stealing them aren’t combing the streets for bikes of certain type. They’re just looking for bikes that are easy to steal. It’s too high profile to get the money for what they’re worth.”

Billing said that used bike buyers should pepper any seller with questions (Where’d’ya get it? How long have you had it? What kind of riding do you do with it?….”) to figure out the legitimacy of the seller.

Even a few of the fire-hydrant red Capital Bikeshare bikes have been stolen.

There have been fewer than ten lost/stolen bikes since we began operating in September 2010,” John Lisle, a spokesman for D.C.’s Department of Transportation which operates Bikeshare, wrote in an emailed response, “As per the user agreement, a member who loses a bike is liable for up to $1,000.”

With rental fees ranging from $1.50 (for 30 minutes to an hour-worth of riding by members) to $94.00 (for six hours to an entire day of riding by non-members), a badly locked or unsecured bike could cost renters more than they think