Sting operations using high-tech devices to nab bicycle thieves will be conducted by police in a move to curb the thefts as bicycle commuting increases in The City.
Transponders that allow electronic tracking by police will be hidden on decoy bicycles positioned to be stolen, according to preliminary plans by police and bicycle advocates. The program is expected to begin this summer.
Police already conduct stings in which they plant bikes in theft hot spots and immediately arrest those who steal them, according to Officer Albie Esparza. And they monitor Craigslist, flea markets and other resale venues to track down stolen bikes, he said.
While many thieves steal bikes at random, cycling advocates suspect there are more-organized operations at work.
“We would have a chance through tracking the bike to get to the people who are buying and selling as opposed to the person who is stealing a bike here and there,” said Renée Rivera, acting executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
The need for a heightened crackdown comes as more commuters hop onto bicycles to avoid rising gas prices, bumper-to-bumper traffic on roadways and the increasing cost to park vehicles in harder-to-find spaces.
Between 2006 and 2009, a study showed a 53 percent increase in bicycling in The City, Rivera said. The increase creates an uptick in thefts, though it’s hard to know the extent of the stealing since many victims don’t report it to police, figuring it’s a lost cause, she said.
Zack Stender, general manager of Mike’s Bikes in San Francisco, said shoppers commonly report they’ve had their bike or bike parts nabbed.
“Pretty much every day we have at least one person whose bike [or bike part] was stolen and needs a new one,” Stender said. “It’s a sad thing.”
Stender said he’s heard that some of the bikes that are stolen are taken to other cities for resale.
The Bicycle Coalition is helping police identify The City’s hot spots for thefts, Rivera said. Some include areas outside BART stations, other transit hubs and outside the Ferry Building, she said.
Other steps have been taken to offer bicyclists more-secure spots to lock up. For instance, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency installed 300 U-racks on city streets this year. It also installed five bike racks along Valencia Street that are purposely visible to deter thieves.
Also, the Bicycle Coalition is working with businesses to encourage more bike parking in garages and other indoor spots, Rivera said.
The pilot project with the tracking devices is expected to begin with a limited number bicycles in the Richmond district before expanding citywide, according to police. It’s meant to send a message to would-be thieves that “if they are going to steal a bike, it might be one with a tracking device,” Esparza said.
Getting around town
201 Miles of bicycle lanes and paths in city
1 in 25 City residents who use bikes for transportation
2.5% San Franciscans who biked to work in 2006
10% Goal of city’s bike plan for number of commuters using bikes
60% San Francisco households with at least one bike
11,000 Members of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition