July 13, 2017

Anti-Chop-Shop Bill Opposed by Homeless Advocates

More bike theft news out of San Francisco: Controversial legislation aimed at cracking down on "chop shops" passed the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee on Monday.

"Countless bicycles are stolen in San Francisco every year, at great cost to local residents, and taken to open-air 'chop shops' in San Francisco where they are disassembled, stripped of identifying information, and/or sold," reads Supervisor Jeff Sheehy's bill. 

"Prohibiting the operation of chop shops, and allowing the Police Department (SFPD) to seize any bicycles or bicycle parts from persons who operate chop shops, will help SFPD hold chop shop operators accountable and will help restore stolen bicycles to their rightful owners. Prohibiting chop shops will also clear the public rights-of way and improve the quality of life for City residents." 

But what is a chop shop exactly? The legislation commendably does not cop a we-know-it-when-we-see-it, instead specifying precise behaviors to be prohibited. If you're outside on public property—on a sidewalk, say, or under a bridge—and assembling, disassembling, selling, offering to sell, or offering to distribute five or more bicycles or bicycle parts, three or more bicycles with missing parts, or a bicycle frame with cut cables, Sheehy's bill authorizes San Francisco police to not only seize your wares but also issue you an administrative citation.

Exceptions written into the legislation ensure that neither those with valid business licenses nor folks holding yard sales would run afoul of the new law, but the bill met opposition from homeless advocacy groups, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and the Democratic Socialists of America: San Francisco. Opponents of the measure contend that it will target the city's homeless population without seriously combatting the bike theft scourge.

"Bicycle theft is a real problem in the City and County of San Francisco and I am happy to hear that this is being discussed in this chamber," said San Francisco Bicycle Coalition executive director Brian Wiedenmeier. "If the legislation could be amended to target those who buy and sell in stolen property that would be an ordinance that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition could enthusiastically support, but right now we are not there yet."

July 10, 2017

BART Pilots Bikeep Racks

In case there weren't enough reasons to envy San Franciscans, now there are "zero theft" bike racks at BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations.

Making good on its promise of a year or so ago, BART is the first transit agency in the United States to test "smart" bike racks from Estonian-born startup Bikeep.

The racks, deployed at the Mission District and Pleasant Hill stations as part of a pilot project, are racks and locks in one, with automatic locking mechanisms users can operate after a short online registration process with mere swipes of their Clipper reloadable transit cards.

The industrial grade steel bars that secure a bike's frame and front wheel sport square cross sections to foil pipe cutter attacks. They enclose wires that, if cut, both trigger an earsplitting alarm and alert authorities.

"So far out of 1 million parking sessions we haven't had a single bike theft incident," said Bikeep CEO Kristjan Lind.

Though they sound too good to be true (use of the Bikeep racks is even free, at least for now), San Francisco's latest attempt to save its residents' two-wheelers from theft is not without drawbacks. The racks are pricey, for one thing, at $1000 each. And while the locking mechanism fits most bicycles, folks with unusual rides—a large e-bike, say, or a diminutive folder—might not be able to secure their front wheel.

Users with locking skewers or a portable lock (kind of kills the initial leave-your-lock-at-home appeal of the system...) can safeguard their rear wheels, but otherwise they're left vulnerable to what one resident recently termed "thieves...like honey badgers," shameless in their plunder of any part left untethered.

If the photo above is any indication, any Bikeep installation needs to be paired with a user education program.