Harvard Grad Student Raises Awareness About Bicycle Theft

Courtesy of Bikenapped!

Lulu Z. Li, a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, has created a website called Bikenapped, where people can find data about bicycle thefts, view locations where thefts have taken place, and post their own stories and advice. Li's inspiration came from her own traumatic past. She owned the same bicycle from fourth grade until her sophomore year of college at Yale, when the lock was broken and the bike stolen. She then bought a cheaper replacement bike, only to have it stolen in less than three weeks.

What started out as a project for an urban design class is now a site with more than 600 logged visitors that has been praised by both the MBTA and the Boston Cyclists Union. The site aims to raise awareness by locating and identifying areas in which a high number of thefts occur. Bikenapped encourages visitors to print out bright yellow flyers to leave as warnings in places where their bikes have been stolen.

"The flyers are intended as a physical push for people to take action and for [Bikenapped] to perpetuate itself with help from the community to keep it alive and growing," Li said.

Li hopes that the site will engage horizontally with the community, creating a network of people without the need for overhead management. One way this is achieved is through a feature that allows visitors to post their own stories and interact with a map of Cambridge to pinpoint thefts. While most of the stories are practical and to the point, some are especially moving.

"There was one woman whose bike was stolen from behind two locked doors and a cable lock," Li recalled. "That bike was the last present her dad gave her before he passed away."

Other stories, however, are not quite as poignant. One user once wrote several paragraphs, explaining in detail how he would extract revenge on the bike thief, along with a promise that a friend would show her boobs to anyone who found and returned the bike.

Li hopes her site will spread farther than the immediate Cambridge Area. She wants to reach as far as the West Coast, where there is a large cycling community which she thinks would benefit from awareness of high bike theft areas.

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