When Lulu Li was eight, her father gave her a bike that she rode all through college. But during her sophomore year as an undergrad at Yale, it was stolen.
“I was like ‘this sucks, I am never riding a bike again,’” she said.
However, when Li moved to Cambridge to begin her graduate studies at Harvard, she quickly learned it would be beneficial to get back on two-wheels.
Trying to steer the bad memories of her beloved bicycle being nabbed by bandits out of her brain, Li purchased another ride so she could travel to and from her apartment.
But just like the incident at Yale, soon, her bike was gone.
“When I decided to buy one again, three weeks later, it got stolen,” she said, adding that she was “heart broken” to be a victim for a second time.
Rather than sit back and sob about her streak of bad luck, Li decided to turn her experience into a project that would benefit people in the overall bike community.
As part of her studio art class at Harvard, Li began to construct a website called “Bikenapped!” which allows users to pinpoint on a map the exact location where their bike was taken, and share their experience with others in the cycling community.
“I thought this was a great opportunity for me to think about this type of issue,” she told BostInno. “And there is nothing in place that can really help us to keep our bikes safe. Now, with all this new technology at our fingertips, it allows us to take matters into our own hands.”
Li said the overall impetus of the project has two fronts; one is to provide better information to riders and the other is to make thefts less of a problem.
In 2011, bike thefts hit an all-time-high at MBTA stations and stops in Massachusetts, specifically in Cambridge, where Li’s bike was nabbed.
Officers said last year that the trend was due to growing bike use throughout the Commonwealth, as places like Boston and surrounding cities expanded bike routes and added more racks.
MBTA Transit Police spend time trying to educate riders on how to keep their bikes from getting stolen, handing out pamphlets, but getting a bike back in the hands of its owner isn’t a guarantee.
While Cambridge isn’t the only town in the Bay State plagued by an uptick in missing two-wheeled transportation, Li said that’s where her focus is for now as her project evolves.
Since she started working on the website in September, she has collected relevant data from Cambridge Police, Harvard Police and MIT Officers to map out the thefts.
Already, there are 353 stolen-bike reports currently logged on Bikenapped, which amounts to roughly $175,000 in reported stolen property loss in 2012 alone. Riders who have experienced problems have been telling their tales on the site, and warning other riders to steer clear of the areas.
“I locked my bike up in broad daylight, near some cop cars, and outside of our school’s public safety office…when I went to leave it was gone,” one user wrote recently. “I relied on my bike as my main mode of transportation to take me through the city, and keep me healthy and alive and miss it very much.”
Li hopes that as more people find out about the site and log their stolen-bike experience, it will allow riders better track problem spots all around the area.
“If we discover other people had their bikes stolen from the same place as ours, perhaps we can join together to demand for better safety measures in our neighborhood,” she said.
Beyond just collecting data and information and storing it on Bikenapped, Li is also providing another service to cyclists.
As part of her initiative, Bikenapped asks users to print out and post a bright-yellow notice at the physical place their specific theft occurred to warn others of what had happened.
With everything combined, Li hopes that Bikenapped can reduce the bike theft rate, and encourage more cyclists to work together.
“I hope it serves as a social network for the cycling community,” said Li.