When retired lawyer Nadine McDonnell had her locked bicycle stolen from a Vancouver street recently, she explored all the usual avenues in the hope of recovering it. She filed a police report, checked out Craigslist and visited a variety of used bike stores and pawn shops. But nobody ever told her it might have been taken by the City of Vancouver.
McDonnell only found out about the city's practice of confiscating bikes after coming across a worker using an angle grinder to saw through the U-lock of an expensivelooking bike attached to a bike path sign Sept. 22 at the intersection of Ontario Street and 22nd Avenue.
"I asked the worker why and he said that it was not permissible to attach bikes to city property and that there had been three complaints," McDonnell said. "He also said that he was not able to tell me who complained and added that he removed around three bikes a day."
Chris Dodd, a superintendent at the city's streets operations branch, said the number of bikes taken by the city is closer to 10 or 15 per year rather than per week, as the staff member allegedly claimed.
"We're not in the bike collection business," said Dodd. "The way it works is it is a complaint-based service. Typically, what happens is that any bike we would touch would be a bike that has no wheels left on it or rusted out or we know has been there for several weeks because we've had several complaints about it. So long as it isn't a safety concern or causing pedestrians to not be able to access the sidewalks or ramps, we typically don't touch it."
While McDonnell accepts that the employee may have inflated the number after being confronted by an irate former union lawyer, she said the actual number of bikes taken isn't the main issue.
"How do we actually know they're not stealing bikes? The city is sending out their workers to do this without any safeguards to ensure they won't be accused themselves of theft. That is a major concern and those are issues that can only be addressed by council. The whole thing is so flawed they should stop immediately."
She also worries that bikes being taken might not be the ones that were the subject of the complaints.
"Say I park my bike and the city worker comes along and says, 'Oh there was a complaint last week about some bike parked along here.' That bike is now gone, my bike is there, they take my bike and don't leave anything to let me know where it is, and I just assume it is stolen."
Dodd said staff use their judgment before removing a bike. "We wouldn't just react and cut the lock off. Our foreman has some discretion, too. If he gets a complaint and something doesn't seem too right there, he won't immediately act on it. We'll get back in touch with the person that complained to discuss the situation and try to get to the bottom of it."
He said that all working bicycles are held at the city's work yard at 701 National Ave. for 30 days before being donated to charity.