John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
They make security cameras take your picture and cry for help if somebody is stealing your bike.
Bike theft is a huge problem at San Francisco Bay Area BART stations. The floors of some look like a maniac dynamited a Kryptonite factory.
But the newfangled bike racks the agency is rolling out as a pilot project might deter at least a bit of the crime. They have tough, built-in locking mechanisms, alarms that screech if someone tampers with them, and the ability to ping the authorities and make security cameras take photos—basically everything short of a deploying a flamethrower at bike thieves.
“I’ve been keeping my eye out for new, high-security bike-parking options for several years,” says Steve Beroldo, manager of access programs at BART. “There are surprisingly few on the market. But this one caught my eye.”
The agency says it’s the first transit agency in the U.S. to test these racks, which are made by Bikeep, a company with offices in San Francisco and Estonia. The way they work is that a cyclist registers for rack access and then taps a Clipper transit card on the device. The rack detects the card’s identification number and matches it to the cyclist, releasing a bar that secures the front wheel as well as the frame. Only the same card holder can then unlock the rack.
The locking bars have square rather than circular cross sections, to frustrate thieves with pipe cutters. Inside of them are wires that, if severed, trigger screeching loudspeaker alarms and also ping the authorities. “I will receive an email alert, and my operator at BikeHub will receive the alert, as well as Bikeep,” says Beroldo. “It can be sent to others, such as the BART police department; I’m still figuring that part out.”
This being the Bay Area, the racks are of course part of the internet of things. “We use it to authorize users and track use,” Beroldo says. “There’s also a security camera that snaps a photo each time a rack is locked or unlocked.”
It must be said none of this matters if you don’t lock your bike to the rack properly—making sure the bar is through the front wheel, and securing the back wheel with your own lock (or locking skewers). A local man has already cataloged one instance of extreme parts-scavenging at the new racks in the Mission, noting that “thieves here are like honey badgers.”
Bikeep says that it hasn’t had a bike taken from one of its racks in a million locking sessions. But this level of security comes with a price—in this case about $1,000 per individual rack space. “Traditional racks, where you bring your own lock, are of course less expensive, but less secure,” says Beroldo. “Our goal is to encourage bike access to BART and to have cyclists confident they can leave their bike at their home station.”
The agency is testing the racks at stations in the Mission District and Pleasant Hill. If they resist the bad guys, and cyclists seem to like them, it might install them on a broader scale throughout the Bay.