Lock It Up! The Problem Of Bike Theft In Eugene

May 7, 2015

As the weather warms up in the Pacific Northwest, more people are riding their bicycles. But in bike-friendly college towns like Eugene and Corvallis, bike theft also increases during the spring and summer.

Shane MacRhodes and his bike outside the KLCC studios.
Credit Rachael McDonald

It's a story many people who commute by bicycle know well. Eugene resident Aaron Brussat had locked his bike outside of Falling Sky Home Fermentation Supply Shop, where he worked.

Brussat: "My friend Scott, the brewer there, he ran in and he was like, dude, you got to call the cops, someone just stole your bike.' And he had actually seen the guy on my bike from the alley and chased him for 5 blocks. Unfortunately he couldn’t catch him. The guy had his bolt-cutters right there in his backpack."

Brussat reported the theft to the police, but he never saw his bike again.

Kerns: "This year, over the same period last year, it's grown 60 percent. Bike thefts have grown 60 percent."

Pete Kerns is Eugene Chief of Police. He says, last year, almost $600 thousand dollars worth of bicycles were stolen. He expects that number to be much larger for 2015. In Corvallis, 50 bikes have been stolen since the first of the year. A spokesman for Corvallis Police says it's a big problem in the city and on campus. Eugene Police Chief Kerns says his department suffers from inadequate staffing.

Kerns: "We don't have extra time to work on things. So we prioritize our work on the most serious offences and then the most common quality of life type offences that make running a business and feeling safe in our homes challenging."

Kerns says EPD has started to study bicycle thefts. Most occur in the University neighborhood, downtown and in the Whitaker.

Kerns: "We also know that it's becoming easier and easier. The technology for stealing a bicycle that's left in open space has made it easier for people to steal it. And advances in opportunities to sell personal items on the internet make it easier to unload a bicycle. You don't have to go to a pawn shop to get rid of a bicycle that a person has stolen."
 
Kerns says his department is looking at efforts by other cities to prevent bike theft. His recommendation: register your bike with EPD and invest in a good bike lock.  

Shane MacRhodes runs the Safe-Routes to School program at Eugene 4J He also commutes by bike.

He locks up his bike with a U-lock outside KLCC.

MacRhodes: "If you're in Eugene, you have to use a U-lock. Cable locks just are easy to cut. People can carry a bolt cutter in their backpack and easily snip a cable-lock.  U-locks can be broken, but it takes a lot more work."

MacRhodes says he's working with schools to put in better bike racks. Some racks are safer than others.

MacRhodes: "Preventing bike theft by having good infrastructure and having good education that teaches people how to lock up their bike properly and it's always a piece that we touch on in our bike safety education classes and in our confident cycling for families classes. We always talk about bike theft because in Eugene it's an issue."

MacRhodes says it's good to have a photo of your bike, register it with police and keep a record of the serial number in case it does get stolen. His bike was stolen last year.   With the help of friends who saw it advertized for sale on Craig's list, MacRhodes actually got his bike back. MacRhodes says the thief even said he was sorry.

MacRhodes: "You know it's very uncommon to catch a thief and then have someone apologize to you."