Project 529 Garage rolls into Chilliwack to curb bike theft

Chilliwack is the latest of 15 communities in B.C. wholeheartedly embracing the concept of fighting back with technology

J Allard (left)

J Allard (left)

Bike theft is skyrocketing in Chilliwack.

Now there’s a way to fight back.

Project 529 Garage, with a stolen bike registry and handy phone app, is helping get stolen bikes back to their owners.

J Allard, CEO of Project 529 Garage, along with VPD constables Rob Brunt and Neil Logan, were in downtown Chilliwack Monday morning to help roll it out.

“We are pumped. It’s coming together very quickly,” said Coun. Jason Lum, chair of the public safety advisory committee.

Chilliwack is the latest of 15 communities in B.C. to wholeheartedly embrace 529 Garage, the multi-layered concept taking on bike theft.

“We’ll be the first in the Fraser Valley,” said Coun. Lum. “I want to register every bike in the city.”

Dan Douglas, PedalSport owner, says the 525 Garage is the “first concrete program” for reducing bike theft that he has seen in Chilliwack in 25 years.

“Its time has come,” he said.

Project 529 Garage is the brainchild of J Allard, a Portland-based tech designer who helped guide the development of the Xbox and the Xbox 360. He came up with the idea after he experienced the bitter burn of bike theft himself.

Allard said within the matter of a few days, his racing bike — which had only been left in a parked vehicle for six hours, secured with three locks — had been stolen and fenced on eBay.

“I realized how difficult it is for cops to contain this crime,” Allard said.

Less than five per cent of bike theft victims ever get their bikes back.

Allard, who was a Microsoft employee for 20+ years, felt stymied when he could not find one single “human being” working on the gnarly problem of bicycle theft. So he put his considerable computer scientist skills to work, and came up with something incredible.

“It’s a 21st century community policing solution,” he said,

Program 529 Garage has grown exponentially in its first year, bringing bike shops, police, city councils and other partners on-board.

In Vancouver alone, there are already 15,000 bikes registered with 529, and enforcement agencies can search the 100,000 strong registry.

“The 529 Garage registration, reporting and recovery network gets stronger with every added user, and collectively we’re making it harder and less profitable to steal bikes in B.C.,” said Allard. “Together we can kick this to the curb!”

Once a registered bike is stolen, it takes only a few taps on a smart phone to get the word out, in a special “missing bike” alert that is fired off to the biking community, and to social media.

It’s like an “amber alert” goes out for the bikes. The app also includes fields for photos of the bike, the 529 shield number and any distinguishing features that can ID the bike.

The 529 shields are tamper-resistant stickers, similar to a vehicle insurance decal.

When a bike is being reported stolen, a map of where the bike was stolen is included, alerting people immediately within about a 16-km radius of the crime.

In minutes, the victim can capture everything needed to report it to police and the cycling community, to help them find their bike.

Recording a serial number is the key and vital part of the program, along with the stick-on shield that also identifies the bike on the registry.

The seven-character serial number and shield number prove ownership and will help police close the file.

It takes minutes to register.

The bike owner snaps photographs of the unique elements of their bike to make it easier for people to recover if it gets stolen.

A free bike registry for Project 529 Garage by Chilliwack Restorative Justice is part of the upcoming Public Safety Expo at the former Target on Nov. 19.

“We have been selling bikes in Chilliwack for 25 years, and have seen the level of bike theft increase to an intolerable level,” said Douglas.

Despite a low rate of recovery typically, his shop has recovered dozens of stolen bikes and seen them returned.

“Still, if the owner does not keep the serial number, or does not report the theft, it’s hard to do much for them,” he said.

Local cycling enthusiast Bob Besner is part of the local organizing committee for the program and is looking forward to seeing it get underway. The local Project 529 Garage committee is a partnership of City of Chilliwack Public Safety Advisory, Chilliwack Community Policing, Chilliwack Restorative Justice, and the local cycling community, including all three bike shops.

Bikes can be registered with Project 529 Garage, at the public safety expo for free, on Nov. 19, or for $12.99 at any of the three participating bike shops. The Public Safety expo on Nov. 19 runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the former Target space in the Cottonwood Mall in Chilliwack.