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Downtown Portland bike theft reports plummeted 60% last year

Posted by on June 24th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Locking up is looking safer.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Here’s some great news for downtown Portland: it seems to be getting safer for parked bikes. Much safer.

You might have seen recent media reports that Portland bike theft reports dipped 13 percent citywide last year, according to a new Portland Police Bureau report. But what you didn’t read was that fully half of the drop came from a single neighborhood: downtown.

In 2011, one in 10 bikes reported stolen in the city was lifted from downtown Portland. Last year, the ratio fell to one in 20.

It comes out to 150 fewer bikes swiped from the city’s densest neighborhood, down from about 280 in 2011 to 107 in 2012. Authorities say they don’t know what caused such a sharp and localized drop.

“Of course we’d love to say that it’s because of the increased awareness we have provided on securing bikes,” police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson wrote in an email. “But very hard to quantify.”

In police statistics, “downtown” includes the longtime hub of local bike theft: Portland State University. But theft is dropping on campus, too.

PSU Transportation Options Director Ian Stude said PSU’s own reports declined from 65 in 2011 to 45 in 2012.

“The PSU Bike Hub only sells U-locks and heavy chain locks. No cable locks.”
— Ian Stude, PSU Transportation Options Director

Earlier this year, we shared an interesting campaign by a PSU student to mark the location of stolen bikes with a red strip of cloth, tape or marker. In 2010, Stude and others launched an on-campus bike shop that has also worked to make the area less lucrative for bike thieves.

“The PSU Bike Hub only sells U-locks and heavy chain locks,” Stude wrote. “No cable locks, as this is the most frequently defeated lock in cases of bike theft on campus.”

The huge drop in downtown thefts last year could just be a statistical fluke, or it could mean that people are simply not bothering to report bike theft using the police’s online reporting tool. (Our own citywide stolen bikes listing, which the police also recommend as a tool for recovering lost bikes, drew 187 more reports in 2012 than in 2011, but from a smaller sample size.)

Whatever the cause, here’s what last year’s police report showed were Portland’s worst neighborhoods for bike theft:

And here’s the chart for this year:

The police didn’t prepare an annual bike theft report until 2011, which was also the first full year for their online crime report tool. But in 2010, the Mercury reported that downtown has long been by far Portland’s most bike-theft-prone neighborhood:

The figures for 2010, above, are so low because they only include data through May. It’s also worth noting that theft seems to be rising in some other neighborhoods, such as the inner Northwest area.

As the charts above show, downtown remains a common spot for most local bike thefts. To protect your vehicle, secure it indoors, protected by a heavy lock, or lock its frame to a secure outdoor fixture; find and record your bike’s serial number; and if it’s stolen, report the loss to the police and list it with us to maximize the chance that you get it back.

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  • Kiel Johnson
    Kiel Johnson June 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    hmmm… the bike valet also opened one year ago

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    • SilkySlim June 24, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      Now you park bikes instead of stealing them? 🙂

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    • Spiffy June 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      is that considered downtown?

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  • Andrew K June 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Great news.

    I am sure it is a lot of factors helping this, but in my direct experience I can say what has been a big help near where I work is my employer has been doing a great job in providing secure bike parking. I know of several other businesses doing the same.

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  • Craig Harlow June 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    This is fantastic if the police report stats accurately reflect reality. I would love to see those stats corroborated by an independent survey. I wonder how many people are repeat victims of bike theft (I am) and have simply learned not to report the thefts:

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    • CaptainKarma June 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      –what I was gonna say…

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  • Spiffy June 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    what are the numbers from the Stolen Bike Registry saying?

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    • bhance June 24, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      My quick stats:

      Bikes reported stolen from Portland OR from Jan 2012 to current:

      Jan2012: 66
      Feb2012: 67
      Mar2012: 48
      Apr2012: 66
      May2012: 90
      Jun2012: 83
      Jul2012: 116
      Aug2012: 125
      Sep2012: 179
      Oct2012: 158
      Nov2012: 132
      Dec2012: 81
      Jan2013: 75
      Feb2013: 77
      Mar2013: 75
      Apr2013: 93
      May2013: 104
      Jun2013: 181 (incomplete month)

      Something like 20 bikes alone were registered today … not all from Portland, of course.


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  • Kirk June 24, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Follow Hal’s advice for a VERY secure lock-job!

    You probably don’t need to do everything that he does, but I really like to use the technique of securing the rear wheel (the more expensive wheel) with the U-Lock through the rear triangle of the bike frame. This then essentially secures the bike frame (without having to annoyingly stretch your U-Lock to contain both the frame and a wheel), and by attaching a cable through this U-Lock you can easily snag the front wheel and have the three most expensive parts of your bike locked up.

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  • Champs June 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    2/28/2013 – “Old Town hotel eviction leads to suspected bicycle thief”


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  • q`Tzal June 24, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Theory, cause: more effective meth addict treatment.
    More likely: thieves have found something else to steal with a lower risk on the backside of the transaction.

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  • JC June 24, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Interesting stats but which don’t match up with the experience of my friends and colleagues who ride with NumBumz. No – that’s not a commercial. 5 bikes stolen in the last 2 months from back yards. And information (albeit hearsay) that there is an interstate group stealing bikes in a town, eg PDX, and U-hauling them to a different town, eg SEA, to circumvent the stolen bike list listings. That’s all I know for now.

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    • q`Tzal June 24, 2013 at 11:56 pm

      Why isn’t there are unified search engine for stolen bike websites?

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      • bhance June 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm

        Mostly because the efforts are all underfunded and patchwork, run by people like me, who have day jobs and not enough time to bang out a perfect solution to the problem. I’ve an API spec I’d like to publish to facilitate exactly this kind of thing (cross searching) but again, it’s a time issue. And all the real repositories of good serial info (mfg’s, cops, uni’s, etc.) are all walled off because it is mostly old tech… not web/api friendly.

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    • bhance June 25, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      This interstate thing is why I recommend people use (if this, then this) to set up a Craigslist search for their stolen bikes and expand it out to all neighboring states. FWIW I’ve had OR stolen bikes pop up in CA before.

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  • Ryan June 25, 2013 at 6:47 am

    After I had a $2500 bike stolen from downtown (using a $90kryptonite fahgettaboudit U lock + cables for the wheels and seat; this bike was locked up for 45 mins), I have never locked up a bike ANYWHERE in the city since. The bike comes inside with me. I’ve also asked my employer to install a secure bike garage and work and it was just completed last month! DONT LOCK your bikes up if they’re worth more than $500 imo, you’re just asking for trouble!

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    • Joseph E June 25, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      That’s interesting, and a little scary. I’ve never heard of a bike stolen in Portland when secured with a good quality U-lock.

      But my wife just got her Brooks saddle stolen yesterday, downtown at PSU. When she went to the Bike Hub, there were 2 other people there who said their leather saddles were stolen that day, too. Remember to keep your saddles covered when parked downtown.

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      • Editz June 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm

        I think I’d be investing in locking seatpost skewers if I had a Brooks saddle.

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    • davemess June 25, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      I agree Ryan. Don’t lock up expensive bikes. By something cheaper and less desirable to commute on.

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  • Dave June 25, 2013 at 8:40 am

    I wonder if it could just be that cyclists are rejecting cable locks. Being cheap and stupid about buying a lock is doing a bike thief a favor.

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    • Craig Harlow June 25, 2013 at 9:29 am

      Two cable-cut bike thefts (that I know of) last week at my workplace in the Lloyd District.

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  • Joe Suburban June 25, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    I am probably part of the problem and solution as well.
    I had my ~ $90 WalMart bike swiped a few years ago – yes I used a cable so as not to damage the paint! I them bought a nicer one in Eugene from a frat/homeless dude near the university, I suspect it might have been stolen…Gave him $50 and bought him a pizza. I now use a u-lock and a good old chain and padlock. The chain is in a piece of inner tube, so as to protect the paint.

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