Friday, March 16, 2012

Stopping Bike Thieves the Copenhagen Way

If you'd like to steal a bike—if you are not bothered by the moral ramifications of doing so—and you live somewhere crowded and urban like New York City, go ahead and do it. Statistically, you are almost certain to get away with it. Why? Nobody cares about other people's bikes, and nobody cares about bike thieves.

Here, Filmmaker Casey Neistat embarks on an experiment, stealing his own bike, loudly and obviously, in the light of day:

This video is old, but he just redid the experiment for the New York Times, with similar results.

I do not know what I would do if I saw someone hacking off a bike lock by a subway stop. Especially if he was large and muscular-looking. If he were smaller than I, perhaps I'd say "Hey man, what are you doing?" Perhaps I wouldn't. Of course if they said "I lost my key." How would I respond then? Do you press the issue further or let them be.

Of course, the goal should be a society without stolen bikes. And indeed, such a society exists! The great city of Copenhagen is known for its numerous number of bikes leaning on buildings, unlocked. You may see them just tossed over on the grass. Nobody really wants the bikes, it turns out, because everyone that wants one already has one. Or has access to one, through the city's bike-share system. No bike thief could make any serious money selling bikes. Besides, income equality was much greater in Denmark, and the have-nots were not nearly as destitute or desperate as those in a city like New York. The incentive for organized bike-stealing is simply not there.

Sure, bikes get stolen, sometimes, but that is mostly the work of drunk kids or jerks. This may be an oversimplification. But the general principle rings true: in a more equal society, and in one that takes pains to provide the services that a populace demands, thieving drops!

You can't fundamentally alter the crowd psychology of human beings, but we can try to make sure that everyone who wants a bike has access to one. We must Denmarkify our societies.


  1. Just for your info, those Copenhagen bikes ARE ALL locked. They use a rear wheel lock in DK that immobilised the bike (but nothing to stop u loading it iti a van). And that is why bike theft is HUGE in Copenhagen! Hundreds of thousands stolen every year.

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