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1 in 100 bikes stolen nationwide in 2020 as Dublin and Limerick cyclists worst hit

Noteworthy investigation reveals bike theft trends over past five years and hears calls for better cycling parking facilities.

HER NEW ELECTRIC bike gave Carly Bailey a new lease of life last summer.

“It was perfect as it gave me that little bit of confidence if I wasn’t in a great place as I could give it a little more power,” she said.

Carly has a degenerative disc condition in her back, so on days she was feeling unwell, she simply boosted the battery.

After rediscovering her joy of cycling during the first Covid-19 lockdown, she invested in a bike that she thought would last her a while. Just 17 days later, Bailey walked out of the council offices at City Hall in Tallaght to find it was gone.

The Social Democrats councillor had secured her new bike with the highest standard lock as well as another on the front wheel. It was taken just after lunch, in a public place – with witnesses who reported the theft as it was in progress to council security.

Security arrived quickly but the bike and thieves were nowhere to be found. “It was gone within seconds,” according to Bailey.

The councillor had insured her new bike so could get a replacement. However, she uses it less now, something that a Dublin Cycling Campaign survey found happens in more than a quarter of bike theft cases.

Carly Bailey - Previously, I would have brought it everywhere. Now, if I don’t have somewhere safe to park it, I’m not going to bring it.

The theft of Bailey’s bike was just one of over 5,200 similar incidents last year. Over the past few weeks, Noteworthy has examined bike theft trends around the country and investigated what councils around Ireland are doing to tackle this issue as part of our Stolen Wheels project. We can now reveal:

  • The incidents of bike theft remained fairly static in 2020 compared to the previous year, with a drop of 2% in Dublin and an increase of 4% across the rest of the country
  • Provisional figures “suggest a marked decrease” in bike thefts up to March this year
  • Almost 30,000 bike thefts occurred over the past five years, with an average of 70% of thefts occurring in Dublin
  • Around 1,400 bike stands were installed since the pandemic across Irish cities, but parking infrastructure remains inconsistent
  • Campaigners say parking is also often in the wrong location which can lead to a higher risk of theft

However, in part one of this project, which you can read now, we found that the use or threat of violence in bike and scooter thefts increased by 65% last year.

***

Dublin drop, with increases elsewhere

Crime statistics obtained from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) by Noteworthy show that the incidents of bike theft has remained relatively constant, with very slight decreases over the past three years.

Some locations in Ireland showed large increases, but most areas that also encompass cities recorded a drop in numbers, with the exception of Galway where there was a 23% increase to almost 200 incidents in the past three years. This equated to 208 bikes stolen across the county in 2020. 

“Provisional figures recorded by An Garda Síochána suggest that there was a slight decrease in theft of pedal cycles nationally in 2020 compared to 2019,” according to a Garda spokesperson. This drop was greater (-2%) in the Dublin Metropolitan region. They added: 

This decrease is despite a marked increase in ownership and pedal cycle usage particularly in Dublin during 2020.

Update 13 May 2021: Overall, there were 5,668 bicycles stolen last year, according to new figures released by the gardaí. The CSO figures we obtained show that this occurred across 5,232 incidents. A Garda spokesperson told Noteworthy that this is because some incidents involved the theft of more than one bike.

You can examine a full breakdown of the number of bikes stolen by area (rather than bike theft incidents) in 2020 and up to 23 April 2021, in a table here as well as a report by our colleagues at The Journal on these statistics.  

A 2020 Sports Ireland survey on the impact of Covid-19 restrictions found there was a 75% increase in cycling between the end of February – before lockdown – and mid-May.

Dublin has always been the epicentre of bike theft in Ireland; it accounts for an average of 70% of all bikes reported stolen nationwide in recent years.

When this is broken down by metropolitan region, thefts in most areas remained the same or dropped last year. However, thefts in the Eastern region, around Dún Laoghaire, rose by 45% in 2020 to over 500 for the first time in five years.

More thefts were reported “from garden sheds, gardens, apartment complexes and houses” in 2020, according to a garda response to a Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Joint Policing Committee query.   

Source: Noteworthy/Flourish

To view an interactive version of this graph, click here.

Around the rest of the country, if Dublin is excluded, there was a 4% increase in bike thefts overall last year, with some areas recording rises and others drops.

There were more than double the number of incidents of theft in Wexford (43), while Wicklow (112) and Cavan/Monaghan (23) almost doubled. Meath (99), Louth (128) and Sligo/Leitrim (24) recorded increases of 50% or more.

The biggest drops occurred in Westmeath (27) which fell almost 50% as well as Limerick (196) and Kildare (114) which had around 25% fewer thefts last year.

There is good news for the current year as a Garda spokesperson told Noteworthy that provisional figures for the first quarter of 2021 “suggest a marked decrease” in bike theft nationally, with around a 20% drop in Dublin compared to the same period in 2020.

Almost 30,000 thefts in five years

The CSO began publishing crime statistics in 2003. When bike theft is analysed from that date, a jump can be clearly seen when the Cycle-to-Work Scheme was introduced at the start of January 2009.

Bike thefts jumped by over a thousand that year from a baseline before the scheme of around 3,000. This crime then increased steadily until 2014 when it peaked at over 6,500 bike theft incidents.

This correlation with the scheme has been well publicised over the past few years. Garda Inspector John Finucane, based at Pearse station, told Noteworthy that “bike theft is an ongoing problem”.

The bike-to-work scheme, interest in cycling and high value bikes are contributory factors, and anecdotally, more people are cycling since the start of the pandemic.

Noteworthy obtained a detailed breakdown of thefts over the past five years from the CSO. We found that over 27,000 incidents of theft occurred during that time, with over 19,000 of these in Dublin.

Source: Noteworthy/Flourish

To view an interactive version of this graph, click here.

When we put these thefts in proportion to population, we found that Dublin had over double the number of bikes stolen per capita compared to the next highest area, Limerick. Also in the top five were Louth, Waterford and Galway.

Not all theft reported

In our previous Bicycle Blackspots investigation, we found that collisions involving cyclists often go unreported, meaning far more occur that are recorded on official statistics. The same is true for bike theft.

“It is accepted that pedal cycle theft is underreported,” the Garda spokesperson told Noteworthy. They added that the CSO Crime and Victimisation survey 2019 identified that 54% of victims of bike theft had reported the crime to the gardaí.

“An Garda Síochána urges all victims of pedal cycle crime to report these incidents for investigation, and to assist An Garda Síochána in analysing and targeting this crime type.”

However, in a 2015 survey of 1,500 cyclists Dublin Cycling Campaign estimated that only 25% of bike thefts are reported. This means that the true figure for thefts last year is around 10,000 at a conservative estimate to potentially over 20,000.

A full breakdown of each area recorded by the CSO can be viewed in this searchable table:

Source: Noteworthy/Flourish

Large scale organised crime ‘not identified’

Though official theft figures have slightly decreased, the number of bikes being taken nationwide remains high. Taking just the reported thefts alongside the high Sports Ireland estimate of 510,000 people who cycled every week last year, this equates to one bike theft per 100 cyclists in 2020.

So, who is responsible for this scale of crime?

Two groups are mentioned by people Noteworthy spoke to as part of this investigation over the past few weeks: young people – mainly teenagers as well as organised criminals.

In our article on aggravated bike theft yesterday, we found that gangs of teens have been targeting people near Luas stops, with councillor Oisín O’Connor saying that more activities and resources are needed in the coming months “to help clubs and youth groups to bolster a programme over the summer”.

Garda presence on the ground was also raised as an issue in relation to the rise in these violent thefts, with Zara Flynn whose son was attacked last Friday calling for better community policing – something that has been cut in recent years.

O’Connor, a Green Party councillor for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and strong cycling advocate, was himself a victim of bike theft. His bike was stolen from Harcourt Street in November 2019 by – he found out a couple of months later – an organised crime gang.

The Journal reported last year that the criminal faction, whose bosses hailed from the Plungé and Kaunas areas of Lithuania, had been stealing bicycles for a number of years and ferrying them across Europe to the Baltic state in a trade suspected to be worth millions of euro annually.

bikes 1 Some of the bikes recovered by gardaí in the container seizure in 2019 Source: Garda Press Office

This Lithuanian gang was linked to a €250k seizure of 119 bikes made by gardaí in Dublin in December 2019. “There was a container found full of expensive bikes, much more expensive than my own,” explained O’Connor.

I was contacted in March to say that my bike had been found in that haul but it took me until June [due to Covid] to get it back.

Since then, gardaí, along with its colleagues in Europol, carried out a massive operation last year which resulted in the dismantling of the main working aspects of this gang in Ireland.

When asked if organised gangs are still involved in bike thefts in Ireland, a Garda spokesperson said that “despite media reports and anecdotal evidence of large scale organised criminal activity, this has not been identified or supported, to date, by criminal investigations”.

The added that An Garda Síochána investigate all bicycle thefts reported and work “closely with online advertising companies to target and share information to identify potential stolen bicycles for sale”. 

An Garda Síochána spokesperson - Despite media reports and anecdotal evidence of large scale organised criminal activity, this has not been identified or supported,  to date, by criminal investigations. Source: (Photo) Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews.ie

Poor parking without consultation

O’Connor was one of the lucky cyclists who managed to get his bike back, as when bicycles are found, it can be difficult to reunite them with their owners, even if they have been reported stolen to the gardaí.

“The vast majority [of] persons reporting stolen bicycles to An Garda Síochána do not know the frame number… or have a picture of the bicycle,” according to a Garda spokesperson. This makes “it very difficult” for gardaí to identify owners of bicycles which have been recovered.

The recording of this type of information is essential in returning recovered pedal cycles to their owners.

In addition to these steps, Inspector Finucane advises that people spend 10% to 20% of the value of their bike on two locks, lock their bike to an immovable object, if possible indoors or in well-lit areas.

However, this is not always possible, according to Martina Callanan from the Galway Cycling Campaign, as the bicycle parking is not always placed appropriately. “Bicycle parking should be in prominent highly visible places where there are lots of people to deter theft and, where possible, sheltered.”

Callanan said that their group is finding it difficult to get information from Galway City Council on where they are planning to install stands and why they are choosing particular locations.

The locations the council choose should be done in consultation with cycling and disability groups, and not in secret.

A spokesperson for Galway City Council said that they welcome suggestions “from cycling and accessibility advocacy groups in relation to the provision of cycle parking”.

They added that they take into account “a number of inputs when identifying new locations for the installation of on-street cycle parking”, such as proximity to transport nodes, requests from businesses and feedback from community wardens.

“Additional cycle parking facilities will be provided in tandem with the progression of the Galway City Cycle Network, with ad hoc requests for stands facilitated where possible.” 

Martina Callanan - Bike parking is important. Although it’s the last step of your journey, it’s often the first question you have. Where will I park? How safe will it be? Source: (Photo) Andrew Downes via Xposure

Callanan said that the quality of bike parking and the proximity to where you want to go has been shown to have an impact on whether people will use a bike for a particular trip. “Poor bike parking stops people from [cycling] to local restaurants, cafes and shops as if you can’t park your bike somewhere safe, you’re not going to use your bike.”

Cork City councillor, Colette Finn, called for improved cycle parking last year after a number of healthcare workers’ bikes were stolen. She told Noteworthy that community and cycling groups are delighted to get involved and give feedback.

Councils do need to build the capacity for two-way dialogue into their system. A lot of the time people agree [on issues] such as the best place for bike parking. It’s usually not controversial. What is controversial is [when] they put it in without asking and it doesn’t suit anybody.

Inconsistent infrastructure

Not only is the parking location important, but the type of rack can have a significant impact on reducing the risk of bike theft. The Sheffield stand or hoop – a thick metal bar in the shape of a square arch – is recommended as best practice for secure parking.

David Timoney of Dublin Cycling Campaign explained that “any other racks are useless as they’re easy to cut through”. He said there are more of these racks being installed, with one reason for this in Dublin being the introduction of dockless bike schemes such as Bleeper as “they can’t be left on the pavement”.

Noteworthy asked all of the city-based local authorities how many Sheffield stands they have in their area and if many were installed since the start of the pandemic, which a lot of new cycling infrastructure has been prioritised.

A spokesperson for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown said that it only installs Sheffield cycle stands, though there are other types of racks in parts of the county that “are not on public space and were not installed by the council”. Fingal County Council only installed this type of parking.

Dublin City Council and Galway City Council both stated that 95% or more of their bicycle stands were of the Sheffield type.

Explore the table below to find out the number of bike stands each city-based local authority has in place, how many have been installed since Covid-19 and what plans they have for bicycle parking in 2021.

Source: Noteworthy/Flourish

Most local authorities are installing Sheffield stands. An estimated 1,400 bike stands were installed since the pandemic across Irish cities, with the vast majority of these this more secure style of parking.

The other councils have a combination of bicycle parking, with Limerick City and South Dublin not providing a breakdown. Waterford City had the lowest percentage of Sheffield Stands – at around 20% – with Cork City slightly ahead with about 40%.

We also compared city-based councils that provided the number of bike stands or parking spaces in their area. All except South Dublin gave this data to Noteworthy, with a spokesperson for South Dublin County Council stating:

“Unfortunately, there is not a definitive list of [bicycle stands] but the Traffic Section are committed to undertake an audit of the county later in the year.”

Source: Noteworthy/Flourish

To view an interactive version of this graph, click here.

Dublin City has by far the most stands, with over 5,200 currently installed. However, when stands are put in proportion to population in each local authority area, Cork City is ahead.

Fingal comes out worst with the lowest proportion of stands per capita. Only slightly better is Limerick City.

In our previous Bicycle Blackspots investigation, we analysed hundreds of cycle-related complaints obtained through freedom of information (FOI) requests to the city councils and found that bike parking was the top infrastructure-related complaint.

Indoor spaces lacking

All cycling advocates we spoke to around Ireland said that more indoor secure bike parking was needed for both public parking in towns and cities, as well as private parking in apartments and offices.

One of the “biggest issues we have right now is the quality of bike parking is really, really poor in apartment blocks,” according to Dublin Cycling Campaign’s Timoney. The group’s research found that these complexes are high risk areas for bike theft.

He has visited numerous apartment blocks around Dublin and found “legacy bike racks in the basement”. Proper safe parking should be provided with “Sheffield hoops and ideally a secure cage with fob access”.

Lack of secure parking has resulted in people storing bikes on their balconies around the city “because they can’t leave them in the underground carpark”.

David Timoney - Wheel-racks in apartment blocks can easily be cut through with a bolt cutter. You’d be better off throwing them in a skip and using nothing.

New design standards were recently published for new apartments state that “that adequate bicycle storage provision needs to be made within, or close to, the dwelling in a location that is sheltered and secure”, a spokesperson from the Department of Housing told Noteworthy.

This does not address those already built and Timoney felt that a funded retrofitted programme is needed.

When the idea of a grant scheme or other incentive was put to Dublin City Council, a spokesperson said they were “not aware of any grant or incentive schemes available to residents for improvement of cycle parking facilities within existing developments”.

They added that when older and existing developments come back into the planning process, “it is possible to require the provision of higher quality cycle parking facilities”.

In terms of its indoor parking, the Dublin City Council spokesperson said in addition to the council’s existing facility at Drury Street, it is “in advanced negotiations with a number of car park operators to acquire spaces for indoor cycle parking in their facilities”. It is also currently rolling out up to 350 bike bunkers “to provide secure covered bike parking for residents in their neighbourhoods”.

A change in perspective needed

Oisín O’Connor - If thousands of anything else was being stolen to this degree every year, something serious would be done about it.

From the need for better parking to more policing, Oisín O’Connor feels that bike theft is still not being taken seriously in Ireland. “There doesn’t seem to be the impetus to deal with it as it’s seen as a lesser crime.”

He feels that one of the reasons behind this is that people in official positions still don’t “view the bicycle as being people’s main mode of transport”. Instead, it’s seen as “a hobby”.

If it was treated as someone’s way of getting to work, someone’s way of getting around, then there would be a different response to it.

The bike needs to be viewed more like a car, according to O’Connor, as “for a lot of people it is their main mode of transport and if they don’t have it, they’re stuck”. This is especially important as families are now investing in electric or cargo bikes instead of a second car.

“If thousands of anything else were being stolen to this degree every year, something serious would be done about it.” 

***

Part one of our Stolen Wheels investigation where we found a 65% increase in aggravated bike and scooter theft last year is out now

This investigation was carried out by Maria Delaney of Noteworthy. It was proposed and funded by you, our readers.

Noteworthy’s previous cycling investigation which exposed the worst places in Ireland to be a cyclist can be read here.

You can support our work by submitting an idea, funding for a particular proposal or setting up a monthly contribution to our general investigative fund HERE>> 

About the author:

Maria Delaney

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