Tagbicycle theft

BikeSpike has major potential impact for data collection

This is a pretty hilarious video showing the main reason one would get a BikeSpike: to catch a thief. 

Bill Fienup emailed me in December or January asking to meet up to talk about their bike theft tracking device (that does a whole lot of other stuff) but I couldn’t meet until February as the transition from Grid Chicago to Streetsblog Chicago was occupying my brain time. Bill’s part of Team BikeSpike.

The BikeSpike in hand. It’s very small and weighs 3.1 ounces.

It was convenient that they were at 1871 on a Tuesday night; I was there for Hack Night, they for one of the other myriad events that occurs on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart. They showed me a 3D-printed mockup of the BikeSpike, and told me what it was capable of doing. They seem to have a good programmer on their team in Josh Billions – yes, that’s his real last name.

I came to their lab near Union Park to talk in depth about BikeSpike with Bill, Josh, Harvey Moon, and Clay Neigher, garner more information, and provide them with some more insight into how the product can be useful to the transportation planning work I do as a Streetsblogger, advocate, and programmer. I brought my friend Brandon Gobel and he became interested to hear about how it could help him manage the future fleet of Bullitt cargo bikes he’s now selling and renting at Ciclo Urbano.

Beside the fact that BikeSpike can show law enforcement workers the EXACT LOCATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY, I like its data collection aspects. Like many apps for iOS (including Moves and Google Latitude), BikeSpike can report its location constantly, creating opportunities for individuals to track training rides and urban planners to see where people ride bikes.

Cities should know where people are riding so they can build infrastructure in those places! Many cities don’t know this until they either count them frequently and in diverse locations, or when they ask. But neither of these methods are as accurate as hundreds, or thousands of people reporting (anonymously) where they ride. I’ve got three examples below.

I imagine the BikeSpike will produce a map like this, which was created by Google Latitude constantly tracking me. 

Team BikeSpike: Clay, Bill, Ben Turner (I didn’t meet him), Josh, and Harvey.

1. Want to see if that new buffered bike lane on South Chicago Avenue actually encourages people to ride there and wasn’t just an extra-space-opportunity? Look at BikeSpike data.

2. The number of people biking on Kinzie Street shot up after a protected bike lane was installed. How many of these new Kinzie riders switched from parallel streets and how many were new to biking? Look at BikeSpike data.

3. Given relatively proximal origins and relatively proximal destinations, will people bike on a buffered bike lane (say Franklin Street or Wabash Avenue) over a protected bike lane (say Dearborn Street)? Look at BikeSpike data.

There are many other things BikeSpike can do with its GPS and accelerometer, including detect if your bike was wiggled or you’ve crashed. I want a BikeSpike but you’ll have to back the project on Kickstarter before I can get one! They need $135,000 more pledged by April 9.

Stolen Bike Registry data: Which train stations have the most bike theft?

If you can help it, don’t park your bike on the sidewalk under the tracks at the Clybourn Metra Station. Too many opportunities for theft here. 

The Stolen Bike Registry is a website created by Chicagoans for people to notify the community that their bike has been stolen. I make no claims to the accuracy or completeness (or anything) about this list or the dataset from which it was created. Because of less than optimal data collection practices, and a diversity of website users, the location information is difficult to comb through and present. I’ve used Google Refine to clean up some of the location data so that I can pick out the theft locations that represent CTA or Metra stations.

This is a list of the most reported bike theft locations that are CTA or Metra stations, from about June 13, 2006, to April 2, 2011, representing 1,740 bike theft reports*. It’s not known how many bike thefts were reported to the police because they don’t know.

CTA (13 stations)

Logan Square Blue Line CTA 8
Rockwell Brown Line CTA 5
Addison Brown Line CTA 2
Fullerton Red/Brown Line CTA 2
Paulina Brown Line CTA 2
Western & Milwaukee (Blue Line) CTA 2
Western Brown Line CTA 2
Addison Blue Line CTA 1
Chicago Brown Line CTA 1
Damen Blue Line CTA 1
Ashland Orange Line CTA  1
Cumberland Blue Line CTA 1
Wellington Brown Line CTA 1

The new bike racks at Clybourn Metra station are in a more visible spot. Maybe there’s even a security camera pointed at them some of the time. 

Metra (24 stations)

Clybourn Metra 19
Ravenswood Metra 18
Edgebrook Metra 4
Evanston Main Street Metra 2
Forest Glen Metra 2
Healy Metra 2
Lake Cook Metra 2
Ogilvie Metra 2
57th Street Metra 1
College Avenue Metra Train Station 1
Corner of Maple & Church in downtown Evanston, near Metra 1
Glenview Metra Station 1
Harlem Metra Station Berwyn, IL 1
Irving Park Metra Stop 1
Jefferson Park Metra 1
LaSalle Street Metra 1
Mayfair Metra 1
Metra Station at Davis Street, Evanston 1
Morton Grove Metra Station 1
Prairie Crossing Metra Station 1
Rogers Park Metra 1
Union Station Metra 1
Western Metra Station 1
Wilmette Metra 1

* Reports come from around the world. 10 dates have been excluded because their dates were anomalous, empty, or not possible.

Updated September 30 to correct a Metra station and combine it with another.

Data collection issues in police database design

Please don’t park on sucker (er, sign) poles. And use a good lock. When your bike is stolen, no one but you will care. And the police won’t even know. 

When I asked the Chicago Police Department for statistics on how many bicycles are reported stolen each year, the response was that statistics couldn’t be provided because the database can’t be filtered on “bicycle theft”. I called the police officer responding to my FOIA request to learn more. He said that bike thefts are only categorized as “property thefts under $300” or “property thefts over $300”.

It would be possible to search through the database using keywords, but that would have been an unreasonable use of the officer’s and department’s time in accordance with FOIA laws (FOIA meaning Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIL in other states).

What a poorly designed database.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has Uniform Crime Reporting standards that police departments nationwide voluntarily adopt. It’s mainly a way for the FBI to collect statistics across the country and I assume this program is necessary because of a state’s right to impose its own standards. That sounds fine by me, but it shouldn’t impede collecting data to assist the Department of Transportation, and the Police Department itself, to combat bike theft. The Bike 2015 Plan, released in 2005 and adopted by the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC), includes several strategies to reduce bike theft in Chicago.

The FBI has a standard reporting code for bike thefts: 6Xf. Its definition is “the unlawful taking of any bicycle, tandem bicycle, unicycle, etc.”

The Chicago Police Department should upgrade its database to code property theft of bicycles as a “bike theft”. For now, though, advocates and activists will have to rely on the homegrown Chicago Stolen Bike Registry*. If you don’t know the extent of the problem, it’ll be hard to develop any solution.

The Bike 2015 Plan called for a report, by 2006, to be written that determined the “amount and types of bike theft”. We’re in 2012 – where’s that report?

Thinking about New York City

New York City’s Police Department (NYPD) has similar, but more grievous, database problems. Right now the New York City Council is holding a hearing to figure out why the NYPD isn’t investigating reckless drivers who’ve killed people walking and cycling. And I read this about it:

 Vacca’s first question to Deputy Chief John Cassidy, the NYPD Chief of Transportation, was about speeding, and how often drivers caught speeding are charged with reckless endangerment. The answer came not from Cassidy, but from Susan Petito, an NYPD attorney, who politely explained that they simply don’t know, because reckless endangerment charges “are not segregated in the database” and can’t be easily found. Via Gothamist.

Hmm, seems like the same issue the Chicago Police Department has.

* The Stolen Bike Registry has its own issues, which is often because of “user error”, wherein people who submit reports to it don’t provide much detail, especially as from where the bike was stolen.

Chicago Police responds to my FOIA request about bicycle theft

A Chicago Police (CPD) officer called me this morning to discuss my FOIA request for bike theft data. It was very revealing.

The first problem is that I forgot to ask for a time frame. No big deal, I can tell him over the phone that I want the last three full calendar years.

The second problem is that there’s not a separate code for recording bicycle thefts. It’s recorded under “Simple Theft” and as being under $300 or over $300.

Third problem is that the database front end (the graphical interface that allows officers to search the reporting database) doesn’t allow him to search all of the report narratives for “bike” or “bicycle” and limit the search to “Simple Theft” in a specific time frame. Some report codes allow narrative searching, and some don’t. He said it would be impractical to search all narratives for the words “bike” or “bicycle” because a lot of reports not about theft would appear in the results.

In my last blog on the Chicago Police Department’s FOIA response (for my request about bike crashes), they explained that they don’t have to create records that don’t already exist (like a list of bike thefts). This response is identical, but they called and gave me a better explanation. The officer also said they don’t have the staff resources to spend on collating their records for bicycle theft reports. I understand this.

He also explained that reporting standards at the CPD are guided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the department’s “Incident Reporting Standards.” In the FBI’s reporting standards, there exists a line item for “bicycle theft” but it’s the same code as “simple theft.” There are separate codes for “credit card theft” and “motor vehicle theft.”

It seems the solution to the problem of obtaining records on bike theft in Chicago is to update the Incident Reporting Standards and include a new code for bike theft reports. At the end of the call, I understood that I was not going to get a list of bike theft dates and times from the police.

For now, Chicagoans should also report their bicycle theft to the Stolen Bike Registry so there’s a publicly available record of theft locations.

A Chicagoans rides his bike north on Halsted Street through University Village. If his bike is stolen, we can’t expect the Chicago Police Department to keep an easily findable report of it.

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