Amid the buses, walkers and drivers, students biking to Western Washington University's campus is not a rare sight to see. It also isn’t rare to see an increase in stolen bike fliers once the academic year kicks off.
In partnership with Bike Index, Western chose to revamp its previous system which was once independently run by University Police. This revamp was made following three students – Weston Sitterding, Pierce Bock and Sean Hakala – pitching the idea of an improved bike system to Western’s Associated Students Transportation Advisory Committee last spring.
About 200 bikes have been registered since the program's launch this fall, said Malcolm Duncan-Graves, the active transportation coordinator at Western. Duncan-Graves said that the amount of registrations they’ve received so far is double what the University Police received with their previous system within a year.
“Roughly 20 bikes are reported stolen from campus each year, though [the actual] number is likely higher,” Duncan-Graves said. “Bikes that are stolen from campus are rarely recovered on campus. That is why the nationwide registration is a great tool to get bikes recovered.”
When students register their bikes, whether online or with the AS Outdoor Center, they will be met with a multi-step process. During this process, students receive a physical QR code to stick on their ride when they input their bike’s data, which makes it easier to retrieve the bike if stolen.
“It’s a national database. Registration stays with the individual and their bike,” said Andrea Reiter, the commute options program manager at Western. “They can drop their affiliation with Western and can tie it into the new town or city that they’ve moved to, but it remains registered the whole time.”
Brenden Whiteley is one of the many students who makes the commute to campus, typically riding his bike two to three times a week. Just like Whiteley, many students benefit from using their bikes to travel, but this can be halted by potential theft.
“For many students, [bikes] are a primary mode of transport, so a bike theft can have a huge impact on their ability to get to class, work or other necessities,” Whiteley said. “This program sounds like an awesome extra step in helping people keep their possessions safe.”
Ron Carpenter, University Police’s deputy chief, recommends that students with bikes should park them in highly occupied places during the day. Carpenter said that bikes are primarily stolen at night, so parking them in areas with lots of traffic can decrease the likelihood of bikes disappearing.
“As bike locks improve, so do bike thieves,” Carpenter said. “People are buying Apple AirTags. Those are awesome, those track your bike anywhere you go.”
Other universities, such as western Idaho’s Boise State University, have had the chance to work alongside Bike Index.
Camille Baird, an employee at Boise State University’s Cycling Learning Center, described their bike system to work successfully on campus. In terms of stolen bikes being returned to their owners, Baird said that the University Police and their campus-wide tracking system have had a relatively decent recovery rate.
According to Duncan-Graves and Reiter, Western has a goal of registering 750 bikes by the end of the year, whether it be for staff members, students or faculty.
“I had not heard of the registration system but will be registering and labeling both of my bikes,” Whiteley said. “Anything that helps avoid theft and helps people get their bikes back is a great idea.”
Neisha Gaskins (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front. She is a second-year student studying environmental journalism. When she isn’t writing, Neisha spends her time reading, making jewelry and sorting her recycling. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.