I attended the final bike tagging session this morning in Well Street outside Tesco’s (the first Tesco store in the country, I believe…) I turned up just before 8am and got my own bike tagged. Martin from Hackney Council had the tags but was waiting for the police van, which arrived soon after. Around 7 police officers then set up a marquee with information, tools, and tags.
The cyclist demographic seemed relatively young and frequently female, something I’ve noticed before in Hackney. This was partly due to the time I was there: we stopped lots of women and men in their 30s going to work. Asking them how they knew about it, I found that some had been told about it at work (they worked for the Council or the NHS and an email had been sent around), some were passing by (the route is on the London Cycle Network), and one person mentioned being phoned by her friend. Others may have heard about it via the bike cards distributed by police in advance of the sessions.
I was impressed again by strategies to prevent theft (one man had taped gaffa tape all over his bike) and noticed again how fear of theft constrains people’s cycling (one woman was riding an old bike rather than her nice new bike because of theft worries). Potentially events like this can encourage new cyclists: I spoke with a woman whose bike looked new, but she had actually owned it since 1995 and been too frightened of motor traffic to ride it. I told her about quiet routes in Hackney but unfortunately didn’t have a map to give her.
I heard that the bike tagging sessions are different each time – in terms of how local people react to the stalls, the take-up, and the local environment (something you notice acutely if you’re standing around all day next to a set of smelly bins, for example!). Today’s was relatively steady (a continuous stream of people throughout the 75 minutes I was there rather than a rush) and friendly; breakfasts were sourced from the Tesco or the local greasy spoon.
In total over 400 bikes will have been tagged over the four sessions. If a police force recovers a stolen bike, there still needs to be commitment to locating the owner: practically, the officers may have to take the saddle off to read the RFID tag embedded in the frame and they will have to check the database.
That this event was happening depended on the quarterly ward-based Safer Neighbourhood Forums, which are part of the local partnership between the police and the council. In two of the wards (Hackney Central and Wick) bike theft figures were particularly high; this was presented to the ward meetings and those present agreed to allocate some budget (from council Safer Neighbourhood funding) to these events. This then translated into four bike tagging events.