As a volunteer at the Bike Project, I see hundreds of abandoned bicycles every year that are removed from different sources. We receive bikes from Campus Parking, the Champaign and Urbana Public Works departments, and occasionally from landlords and property management companies.
You've seen these bikes before we receive them: locked to stairwells, half-rotten from exposure or disuse with a wheel or two missing or taco-ed by a drunken passerby and their chain rusted stiff from spending months outside.
I've worked closely with Campus Parking, and they do an excellent and thankless job, keeping bike racks cleared enough to be useable for future iterations of students, and removing illegally parked bikes to keep entrances and wheelchair ramps accessible.
Sometimes I wonder what motivates someone to just leave their bike behind. Many times, it appears that a minor mechanical issue like a flat tire or broken spoke forces a decision: repair or abandon, with the second choice often taking precedence. I have to admit that I've looked down on those anonymous souls whose bikes we receive, who are obviously spoiled brats who don't appreciate what they have.
Well, last week I got to see how the other half lives, as my bicycle was removed the rack where I'd locked it up just a few hours prior. I share the following as a cautionary tale:
I carpool (I know, I know, driving is bad) to my job in Gibson City with a U of I engineering student who's working as a co-op at the same plant. He lives at the CPM Urbana Commons apartment building at the corner of Springfield and Lincoln. Sometimes, to save him the trouble of driving across town to pick me up, I'll ride my bicycle to his apartment building and park it on the bike racks in front of the building (they're generally not over-crowded by any means). The parking lot has the ubiquitous "Private Parking, Reynolds Towing" signs, but I'd always assumed that those rules were limited to automobiles, and there were no specific signs by the bike racks.
Last Friday, it was his turn to drive, so I rode over there, locking my bike at 6:45 in the morning. However, when I returned at 4 p.m., the bike was gone, along with several others from the rack, and several cut cable locks (including mine) were in the dumpster next to the rack. For the first time, I noticed generic oval "Permit" stickers on the top tubes of the two bikes which remained.
I called the towing company first, and they didn't have any knowledge of it, suggesting I call the police to report my bike stolen. I called the property management company's number, and they informed me that they have a new permit program for bikes that are allowed to be parked at their property because they had many bicycles abandoned at their properties, and that day they'd done a sweep to remove unauthorized bikes.
They also informed me that I would need to pay a $35 fee to recover my bike, which would be available early the next week. I explained my situation and said I didn't think I should be on the hook for any fees, and they transferred me to the property manager, who was initially pretty unsympathetic. She said that the bike racks were private property and that it was just common sense that I shouldn't be able to park my bike there, as a non-resident.
I asked her where I should park my bike when I visited the property, and she stumbled around a bit and said that the person who I carpool with would need to get me a permit for my bike and give it to me. (My co-worker said he had no knowledge of such a program being announced.)
I said I would be understanding of having my bike removed and needing to pay a fee if I'd locked it in a stairwell or to a fence or parking meter or somewhere is someone's way, but that I felt I was being punished for the abuses of others. She seemed to see the logic in that and verbally agreed to waive the fee, but I still won't be able to get my bike back until Monday afternoon.
Over the weekend, I sent a modified description of the events above to a couple of local bicycling email listservs that I frequent, to see if anyone else had encountered any rules like this. (Any bicycles removed on campus or by the cities of Champaign or Urbana have their wheels tagged for at least 72 hours before they're removed.) I heard from an Urbana alderman and a campus police officer, among other folks, who had never heard of any such rules or enforcement. I did hear from an Ashton Woods resident, who was aware of rules about personal property stored outdoors needing to be tagged, but they'd never heard of those rules being enforced.
So, Monday I returned to the CPM offices after work, and was informed that I'd need to come back the next day, because they weren't able to retrieve my bike yet. I didn't do a very good job of containing my frustration, but I didn't raise my voice or curse anyone out. When I returned on Tuesday, they returned my bike and made good on their statement that they wouldn't charge me the $35 fee. There was no damage to the bicycle.
Bad timing/ bad luck was certainly a big factor in my bicycle being removed, but if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone who occasionally parks their bike at an apartment complex of which they aren't a resident. I'm out a cheap lock and I didn't have use of the bike for four days, but at least I got it back, and I have a newfound appreciation for those whose abandoned bicycles I repair.