Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on April 14th, 2010 at 9:39 am
rack to get Bryan Thompson’s bike.
(Photo: Bryan Thompson)
Back in 2007, upon coming across a wobbly staple rack in Northwest Portland, I wondered if it was the work of thieves or just a natural occurrence. It seemed plausible that someone intent on stealing a bike could just loosen the bolts of a rack and walk away with the bike(s).
This morning I got a report from reader Bryan Thompson. He says that’s exactly how a thief took his 2009 Trek road bike from a parking garage in Goose Hollow. This is the first time in five years I’ve every heard of this actually happening. Here’s a snip from Bryan’s email:
“I had my bike stolen from the (supposedly) secure underground parking garage beneath my girlfriend’s apartment….I was simultaneously impressed/enraged at the ingenuity of the thief: I had locked my bike and the front tire to a parking staple using a Kryptonite U-Lock. When I returned the next morning I found the aforementioned lock rendered moot by the thief taking a common ratchet set to the bolts that secured the staple to the cement floor.”
Bryan said he was shocked that he never realized that these very commonly used staple racks were attached to the ground with simple bolts that can be unscrewed with an ordinary wrench purchased from any hardware store.
bolt (an Allen bolt with a piece that protrudes
in the middle).
It’s important to note that the racks in Bryan’s case and in our story from 2007, are not official, City of Portland staple racks (the official ones are blue). When PBOT installs a rack they use a vandal-proof, security bolt (like these) that requires a special wrench to loosen (see photo at right).
Even so, there are hundreds of staple racks in Portland not installed by PBOT that have the same security issues as the one Bryan used. It’d be great if businesses that have installed their own, publicly available staple racks would partner with the City to retrofit theirs with the special bolts. But then again, I’m sure the wrench for those could be purchased by a thief if they really wanted to source it.
In the end, I suppose a way to deter thieves in this situation would be to lock your wheel to the rack as well. That way, if a thief was brazen enough to try this, they’d either look very suspicious walking a locked bike around or they’d have a tough time riding it with a u-lock still hanging on the wheel. (As someone points out below, Bryan did lock his wheel, so I guess if a thief is brazen enough it doesn’t really matter.)
The solution from a rack-installation point of view would be to sink the legs of the racks into the concrete or asphalt — but I’m sure that would add quite a bit of expense to an otherwise simple job.
I’ve got a call into PBOT to ask just how many non-PBOT staple racks are installed throughout the City and how difficult it would be to purchase the type of wrench it takes to loosen their special bolts.
I’ll update the story when I hear back.
UPDATE: The PBOT staffer in charge of bike parking, Sarah Figliozzi, said it’d be hard to estimate the number of non-PBOT racks. They require a permit to install, so she’ll check the number of permits in the last year and get back to me. She also made the point that they’re well aware their racks “aren’t 100% secure” but she stressed that they’re intended for short-term parking, not overnight use. She also mentioned they try to only install racks in high visibility locations.
As for the wrench to unscrew the PBOT security bolts, Figliozzi said they’re expensive but not hard to find and many websites sell them (in fact, I found several cheap options with a quick online search).
UPDATE: One of our Twitter followers points out that the Seattle DOT has a solution — an extra bar across the staple that would prevent locks from being slipped off. Here’s a drawing: