Thursday, December 28, 2006

News: Bike Theft Not a Problem, Security Says

Lang Students Say, Yeah Right

Busy even on a Sunday: the Lang Parking Garage. Photo by Rob Buchanan

By Ben Kelly

Earlier this semester, Lang Junior Ana Harsanyi locked her bike outside the 12th street entrance to Lang. When she came back after class to ride it home, the collapsible Dahon was gone.

"I kind of figured it would get stolen at some point. It's inevitable in New York," Harsayani said. "But I was surprised it would happen at school, where there are so many cameras and people. I've parked it in a lot shadier places."

New School Director of Security Tom Illiceto maintains that students shouldn't worry about their bikes being stolen.

"We have had relatively very few thefts reported," he wrote in an email. "Lang, as with all of the buildings, is safe."

But Lang, with its upscale location and highly visible security measures, may be less safe than it seems, especially when it comes to bikes. The Security Office says that only one bike has been stolen from outside Lang, and that in the last year, four bikes have been stolen from the New School. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that number could be much higher.

"It seems like it's pretty common," Harsanyi said. "I alone have heard of a handful" of thefts.

Writing professor Rob Buchanan had his bike stolen from outside the 11th street entrance earlier this semester. Like Harsanyi's, Buchanan's bike was locked.

The thief used a two-by-four, Buchanan wrote in an email. "I know because I found the board on the ground nearby, along with my bent-into-a-pretzel Krypton lock."

The Security Office has never apprehended a bike thief. Illiceto says he doesn't know if the thief or thieves are likely to be students or not, or whether they live in the neighborhood or come to the school to steal bikes.

"We can't say for certain who is responsible for the thefts," he wrote. "These types of incidents are crimes of opportunity."

A Security Officer at 65 Fifth Ave., who asked not to be named, said that the victims of bike theft weren't taking the proper precautions. "Thieves are smart," he said. "They come by, maybe with pliers, maybe a [bolt]-cutter, and take off the locks."

Some bike thieves are actually involved in larger operations, according to a report by the organization Recycle-A-Bicycle, a bike advocacy group and used bike and repair shop in the East Village and DUMBO. “A healthy underground market exists” on Avenue A, the report said, including the Flea Market on 11th Street and Tompkins Square Park.

Thieves steal whole bikes or parts and then sell them to used bike stores or individuals who sell bikes on the sidewalks. The bikes or parts are usually repainted and reconstructed to look new. Most used bike stores do not track their bikes, so even the most moral of bike enthusiasts may unknowingly be purchasing a black-market bike.

One common element in the crimes does seem to be the ease with which the lock can be removed. Harsanyi had locked her bike with the notorious U-Lock, which are frailer than one might expect. The Web site Engadget.com has a video of the lock being hacked with a ballpoint pen. Buchanan, for his part, used an inexpensive, flexible cable lock.

Last year, two Lang students who lived in the East Village witnessed a man outside their apartment sit down on the sidewalk and proceed to take apart three bikes. No one who passed seemed interested in the man throwing unwanted bike parts in the air and stuffing handlebars and seats into his bag, so the students called the police—who, after a short chase, apprehended the man on a nearby corner. None of the bikes that were demolished seemed to have been locked securely.

"You have a cheap lock, the bike's going to get stolen," the security officer said.

Illiceto offered similar advice, and advised locking the bike in "highly trafficked public areas"--like the sidewalks outside Lang.

Harsanyi has her own advice to Lang bike owners. "You probably shouldn't park your bike at school," she said.

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