This is the front-page story in todays' Toronto Star. With more than 13,000 post-ring curbside lockups, approximately 950,000 cyclists and 1.5 million bicycles in this city, this story should send alarm bells through city hall, but sadly, even with an allegedly pro-bicycle, left-wing administration, Mayor Miller and Bicycle Committee chair Adam Giambrone are far too inept and ineffective to actually act on a solution. And the police? The most you can expect from them is a sneer and a chuckle with a muttered 'sucks to be you' uttered behind your back.
Now you see it, now you don't
Aug. 9, 2006. 05:51 AM
You'd think the safest place in the city to park your bike would be in front of police headquarters on a busy weekday.
It ain't so — as I found out yesterday when a thief made off with my treasured Trek hybrid, a gift to replace another stolen bike. It was locked to one of the city's 13,000 post and ring lock-ups curbside at 40 College St., and disappeared sometime between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
But that's not unusual, since Toronto is a mecca for bike theft, with some 3,971 stolen last year — and that's just the number reported to police. (Unfortunately, no surveillance cameras are aimed at College St. that might have caught the brazen bandit, a constable on the duty desk told me.)
It's too soon to say if bike thefts are up or down this year over last, but at least one party with a vested interest — a U.S.-based bicycle lock manufacturer — predicted the summer of 2006 has the potential to set a record number of thefts due to more people riding their bicycles because of rising gas prices.
Anecdotally, as a cyclist who commutes to work and rides all over town — sometimes to crime scenes — the streets sure seem filled with more people who find that pushing pedals is the better way. If you can hang onto the bike, that is.
And as any big-city cyclist will tell you, the only place a bike is truly secure is between your legs because most locks can be foiled. Just ask anyone armed with wire cutters, saws, crowbars and now, perhaps worryingly, another weapon in the bike thief's arsenal: two-by-fours.
In the case of my bike, the metal stand of the lock-up was left intact, but there was no trace of the bike and basket, nor the cable threaded through the two wheels and Kryptonite lock. But Frank Lama, a magazine editor, has another story.
A week ago Saturday at around noon, Lama hitched his $1,200 Haro mountain bike to the post and ring lock-up at King and Yonge Sts., in full view of a security guard.
"I had a Kryptonite lock on it, (figuring) there's no way they're going to break the lock," Lama said.
But by the time he went to saddle up at 5 p.m., it was gone. "It sucks. I live downtown and ... now I'm running everywhere."
He believes the thief gave the guard advance warning. "A guy came up to him: `If I steal something out here, are you going to call the cops?' He said, `Yeah, of course, I am.' ... He watched him walk away and head toward Bay St."
But Lama believes the thief doubled back and left something that should raise the concern of city officials responsible for the ubiquitous post and ring lock-ups.
Beside the post lay a plank of wood, and the metal ring that bears the words City of Toronto was left in two pieces. Lama believes there's a flaw in the bike post that allowed the thief to use the two-by-four as leverage to snap the ring in two.
"When I talked to the cops, they said a couple of other bikes were stolen that way." The officer told him to get rid of the wood "so no one sees that these posts can be busted like that."
He said city officials called and asked for details and were "very concerned." The official in charge of the program couldn't be reached for comment last night.
"That's horrible," Reba Plummer, a partner at Urbane Cyclist on John St. near Queen St. W., said of the possibility of another breach in bike security. Just two years ago, the news broke that U-locks with cylindrical key mechanisms could easily be defeated with the simple twist of a Bic pen. Plummer said it prompted a massive recall, and the round keys that were used have been replaced.
The need for vigilance, however, remains.
"If I go anywhere, I have two locks — $160 worth of locks for my 20-year-old $300 bike," Plummer laughed. "People will say my bike's not really worth anything, no one will steal it. Well, if they get five bucks for it, they'll steal it."
People in the city's biking community suspect that at least two bike shops sell stolen bikes, as well as "second-hand shops, pawn shops.... It's not just bikes, it's all that stereo equipment, all those tools, all that musical equipment," Plummer said.
"The problem is if there was no market, if you couldn't just steal a bike and get a few bucks somewhere, then the people would stop stealing bikes."
Pauline Craig, the city's cycling and transit project organizer, said plans to deploy 66 bike lockers are still on track, part of a $60,000 pilot project aimed at preventing bicycle theft. Cyclists can pay $10 a month to use one of the lockers, which each come with a unique key and lock.
For now, 22 lockers are at city hall and at the GO Transit station at Exhibition Stadium. More will be deployed at the Toronto Islands ferry docks at Bay St. and Queens Quay W., and at key subway stations.
"They're very secure and there's no record, that we're aware, of people being able to break into them because of the way the lock mechanism works," Craig said.
She said she had not heard of any complaints with the post and ring lock-ups but noted they are for short-term use.
"That's not a location where you'd want to leave your bike for several hours or overnight or over a weekend, it's just not safe. If the bike is out of your sight for an extended period of time, they can pry locks open, they can saw off things. They need time and a certain amount of privacy to do that."
Unless you park in front of police headquarters.