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Students struggle with bike theft on Western’s campus

Bike riders can protect their bike with high-quality bike locks, secure parking locations

Bike parking station outside the Communications Facility at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 24, 2023. Bike stations are by most buildings, although the ones outside the dorms see the most theft, said Katryne Potts, Western’s chief of police. // Photo by Jenna Millikan

For students whose main mode of transportation is biking, bike theft on Western Washington University’s campus is a big concern.

Thirty bike theft cases took place at Western in 2022, said Katryne Potts, Western’s chief of police. Most of these cases took place around the dorms.

Logan Heeringa, a second-year student at Western, experienced bike theft during his first week of classes when someone stole his mountain bike from outside Alma Clark Glass Hall. 

“I felt like I just completely forgot that I parked it somewhere else, but then I realized, oh, no, it was actually taken,” Heeringa said.

Heeringa was able to find his bike because of the AirTag he glued to the bike's frame.

“The AirTag I got actually a couple weeks before from my mother for my birthday," Heeringa said. "I didn't really know what they were at the time, but I do now, and I have a whole bunch because they’ve been so useful.”

AirTags allow anyone with an Apple device to track the location of the items they are attached to.

Heeringa's bike was found discarded 15 minutes away from where it was stolen. He was able to get it back with the help of the University Police.

“Most of the time, [the stolen bike] ends up getting discarded because if they cut the locks and they’re just using it for transportation, they're not buying a lock either,” Potts said. “So then somebody else might end up stealing it from them.”

Students who have registered their bike’s serial number have the best chance of getting their bikes returned if stolen, Potts said. 

After the theft, Heeringa changed how he kept his bike safe by replacing the bike lock and purchasing more AirTags. This allows him to check the location of his bike at any time and gives him a sense of security, Heeringa said.

It’s not just Western – college campuses tend to attract bike thieves, said Phil Miller, a Senior Transportation Planner at the University of Washington.

“People who are looking to steal bikes know that they can find them on a college campus very easily because it's a primary means of transportation for a student body,” Miller said.

As bike locks improve, so do bike thieves. Angle cutters and other tools make high-quality bike locks easier to cut, Miller said. 

College campuses have to adapt and find ways to offer secure and accessible bike parking on campus.

“It's something we have to do because of the way that the lifestyle, the culture of living on a college campus is changing,” Miller said. “I don't think Western is much different.”

Western is working to become a more bike-friendly university, said James Detke, the active transportation coordinator at Western.

Currently, Western offers both outdoor and indoor bike storage. Residence halls built more recently offer indoor bike storage for residents, Detke said.

For students keeping their bikes outside, the best way to keep them safe is a high-quality bike lock. 

“You just want to make sure that it’s like big clunky chains that can’t easily be cut,” Detke said.

The Western Outdoor Center offers a bike shop for students to work on their bikes and get access to mechanics and tools for $2. Students with parts stolen from their bikes can get replacement parts for a low price.

“There are mechanics there who will help you work on your bike,” Detke said. “If you're very new to it, they're gonna help you a lot.”

Only 3% of Western students use biking as their main mode of transportation as of 2018, which is a number Western is working to increase, as well as other forms of wheeled transportation, Detke said.

Western's Transportation Department hosts events throughout the year for students with an interest in biking. Coming up is Bike Month, which takes place in May. 

Biking can be an efficient way to get around campus if you have taken the proper precautions.

“For me, personally, I get a lot of benefits out of [biking to campus],” Detke said. “[It’s nice] to be able to bike to campus and kind of see what's going on in the neighborhood and run into people on my way here.”

Jenna Millikan

Jenna Millikan (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year student majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. When not reporting, she enjoys cheesy movies, reading and drinking too much coffee. 

You can reach her 

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