Cycle theft reduction project a success

This article was published in 2002, in Newsletter 43.

Simon NuttallCambridge’s Cycle Theft Reduction project has only two months left to run. I talked to Simon Nuttall, who was appointed as project manager 20 months ago, to review the scheme and his work.

David Earl: How did the scheme get started?

Simon Nuttall: I suppose it was the then Home Secretary Jack Straw’s desire to be ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.’ Community Safety Partnerships were being set up and there was funding available to target particular crimes. The Cycling Campaign had been meeting with, and building up a relationship with, the local police. A genuine partnership which involved police, a voluntary group and other local authorities was always going to score highly in the bidding rounds. Cycle theft is a particularly serious problem in our area, so we were awarded £167,000.

What are the project’s aims?

There are three: to reduce cycle theft in the city by 10% overall, to reduce thefts by 20% among the student population’s bikes, and to increase detection of cycle theft.

And are those aims going to be achieved?

Well, cycle theft has gone down by 33% over the lifetime of the project, so yes, the first two aims have definitely been achieved. The project can’t claim the credit for all of this reduction, but it has clearly been a success. The third aim hasn’t been met. Ironically, it hasn’t been set as a police priority because cycle theft has been going down and there has been a rise in other types of crime.

The most noticeable achievement of the project is the addition of 730 new cycle parking spaces across the city. Secure cycle parking is really a much better solution over the long term than detecting theft after it has happened.

Image as described adjacent
Applying the micro-dot security system to a bike whose owner came along to our own Bike Week Dr Bike event.

What happens to the project next?

The project itself won’t continue, as it was only intended to run for a fixed period. Nevertheless, I have been working on a bid to the Safer Communities Fund to allow work to continue on the registration scheme – coding bikes with microdots or electronic tags. Cambridge City Council needs to pick up impetus from the cycle parking parts of the scheme and continue to install new cycle stands.

What’s been the secret of the project’s success?

Having the money available to do it, and a willingness among the project partners to make it happen, is what has made it possible.

The project gave us the opportunity to test parking stands before and after we installed them. All the designs we eventually put in have proved themselves in one way or another, so they’ll all stay. We learned how important spacing is, whatever the design but, at the same time, capacity is vital and the conclusion was that you can only really have both with an alternating high/low arrangement.

So which racks were most successful?

The ‘triangles’ (see the example near Culpeper’s shop on Lion Yard) allowed us to put 12 spaces where there were only eight before. Bikes using them are usually parked tidily and locked as intended to the metal loop. It’s perhaps one of the more controversial designs because you have to lift a bike to get it in and it might appear to give less support to the bike than it actually does.

Image as described adjacent
The winner was the ’rounded A’ frame.

But the winner is the ’rounded A.’ This is compact and can accommodate the widest range of bikes: children’s bikes, those with baskets and child seats, ladies’ frames can be locked to it. And bikes don’t fall over because of the cross-bar. It’s easy to use, although it doesn’t have quite the capacity of the ‘triangle.’

Has your approach changed as you got into the job?

Before working with the police, I thought that reporting a stolen bike was a fruitless exercise. But I do see now that there is at least a modest chance of getting a bike back if you do report it: about 15% of bikes are returned to their owners.

I used to think the Sheffield stand was the only good cycle parking solution, but now I know there are better ones. A good quality finish is important to avoid deterioration. And putting them somewhere with good surveillance is crucial. It’s hard to find places to put more cycle parking – the best bets are often where there are double yellow lines.

What’s now most needed?

We need a staffed cycle parking facility at the bus station – maybe if Bradwell’s Court is redeveloped this could provide the space. There’s lots of demand in that area and it’s a hot spot for cycle theft.

On a wider front, making cycling safer, and especially reducing the perception of danger, is the biggest thing that can be done to encourage cycling. And that means making more space for bikes, and reducing traffic. Traffic reduction really isn’t on the authorities’ agenda.

I really think it’s a shame that people feel they have to ride a low value, rusting bike to the station, rather than their best bike just because it might get stolen, so I’ve been really pleased to be involved in this project going some way to reducing the problem.

And what’s next for you?

I still want to try to stay doing something in cycling. I still think doing cycling tours or running a cycling school would be possible. Amsterdam has ‘yellow bike’ tours of the City. We could do something similar.

You’re not the only one who has been involved in the project, of course?

The partnership has been very important. But I’d particularly like to thank PC Anil Soni, and Alan Sidell and John Isherwood at Cambridge City Council for the support they’ve given the project.