Advocates for cyclists, homeless, push back on bike chop shop proposal

The bicycle rack inside 16th Street BART station, full in April. A BART police officer said securing a bicycle with only a cable lock "is like not locking the bike at all."

Police will be able to seize any bikes or bicycle parts from individuals who have five or more bikes displayed on public property, according to legislation that will be considered Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy proposed the chop shop ban to target San Francisco’s ongoing bicycle theft problem.

The bicycle theft problem is concentrated in the Mission District, where police report that 60 percent of the city’s bike thefts occur.

Two San Francisco organizations say the ban does not target the root of the problem.

“This legislation paints all unhoused cyclists as thieves,” said Dayton Andrews, a human rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness. Since homeless people often have no place to store their bikes, they can only have them on the street, said Andrews. The proposed legislation will mean homeless people can be targeted by police and their property seized.

Seized property can be retrieved from the SFPD if the person can demonstrate ownership. The ban does not include fines for the people affected, meaning that if homeless people’s bikes are taken they can go get it back without incurring a cost that they cannot pay.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition also opposes the legislation – albeit for different reasons.

“We believe that prevention may be the most resource-effective method of combating bike theft,” wrote Executive Director Brian Wiedenmeier in a letter to the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee.

Wiedenmeier wrote that targeting chop shops only addresses the “most visible symptom of bicycle theft in our city.” Legislation should focus on the market for stolen bikes, he wrote. The best solution is to prevent bikes from entering the illegal market in the first place.

However, making it harder to sell bicycles on the street may make vendors turn towards other products.

There have been multiple proposed strategies to prevent bikes from being stolen. Some of these, like the citywide bicycle registration program, have shown good results.

There is still a problem with the bike registration method.

“Most people do not register their bikes,” said San Francisco Police Public Information Officer Robert Rueca. Registering bikes would mean police could more easily restore them to owners if stolen. More people registering bikes would also mean that bicycle data would be more accurate.

Another good prevention strategy, said Rueca, is to educate San Francisco bikers on proper bike locking techniques so that bicycles are not so easy to steal.

Wiedenmeier from the Bicycle Coalition also pointed out in his letter that potentially successful prevention strategies haven’t even been tried. Consistent analysis of bicycle theft data, attended bike parking sites and more bike parking corrals are things that could stop bike theft at the source.

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4 Comments

  1. Mike

    One of the homeless encampments on Harrison or Folsom actually has an entire tent dedicated to stolen bikes and bike parts.

  2. phongpei

    no such thing as locking a bike properly. portable sawzall is all they need.

  3. Rubes

    I never understood why a homeless person needs 15 bikes and so many parts? If you look at these bikes they are major brands, expensive brands like Specialized, Felt, Trek, Public, Giant, Surly, etc… So please explain to us how do these individuals afford such expensive bikes.

  4. Al Free

    The glaring problem with the complete rejection of this ban for a “prevention strategy” alone that the Bicycle Coalition and others are pushing is that the majority of bikes stolen (at least in the Mission) are from residential garages, not places like bike parking corrals. It seems obvious to me that making it harder for these bike thieves to operate is the obvious step. Our rights to safety and the security of our own possessions in our our garages is compromised under current circumstances. Why is it so inhumane that those living on the streets must also compromise by not being allowed to have more than 5 bikes in their possession so that we can address this crisis in our city? For the vast majority of homeless who are not involved in the bike chop shops, this ban could even protect them from being criminalized by association. I would imagine for someone living on the street, giving up one of your bikes to leave you with four in order to meet the requirements of this ban would be FAR from the worst sacrifice they have to make on a daily basis.

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