Stolen bike returned to Oakland resident

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Harmony Venturino, 21, of Oakland had her bike stolen Wednesday night. Less than 24 hours later, it was back in her possession.

Ms. Venturino was working at Jimmy John's on Liberty Avenue in Downtown and had left her bicycle sitting outside the store unlocked, as she and the other delivery drivers often do. Around 7:40 p.m., a co-worker who was taking out the trash noticed a man was stealing Ms. Venturino's bike. The co-worker chased after the thief, but he got away.

Minutes after the bike was stolen, Ms. Venturino and her co-worker contacted law enforcement to file a police report. Her immediate next step was to call Bike Pittsburgh, a nonprofit advocacy group that recently started a program intended to return stolen bikes to their owners.

The idea behind the program, known as I <3 My Bike, is simple: Take photos of bikers with their bikes at community events and collect contact information from the bikers, along with serial numbers and defining characteristics of the bikes, to create a database that can be consulted when a bike goes missing.

In Ms. Venturino's case, she just thought it would be "fun" to take a picture with her bike at this year's Three River Arts Festival, she said. Little did she know it would be of such help so soon.

Ms. Venturino heard back from Bike Pittsburgh on Thursday morning. The organization provided her with her bike's serial number so she could pass it along to police and also asked if she wanted a notice about the missing bike posted on the group's Facebook and Twitter accounts.

After being put up around 2:00 p.m., the notice was soon shared dozens of times by Bike Pittsburgh's followers, and in less than an hour, a woman commented on the Facebook post noting that she thought her neighbor had found the bike. Ms. Venturino soon received a phone call notifying her that her bike had been located in Wilkinsburg; a member of Bike Pittsburgh delivered it to her later that day.

"They went out of their way to make sure my bike was found," Ms. Venturino said.

Rebecca Susman, membership and outreach manager at Bike Pittsburgh, was responsible for designing the I <3 My Bike program. She said she got the idea at a conference a couple years ago where someone mentioned a similar initiative in San Francisco. Because Ms. Susman had her bicycle stolen when previously living in Chicago, she is able to sympathize with other victims of bike theft, she said.

Ms. Susman said she does not know if programs like Bike Pittsburgh currently exist in any other cities. Almost 500 people have joined I <3 My Bike in the past three months. While the program was officially launched at Pittsburgh PARK(ing) Day last September, it got its big start at the 9th Annual Keg Ride in April, Ms. Susman said.

Despite this initial success of I <3 My Bike, Ms. Susman said she hopes the program is not put to the test that often. For the most part, those at Bike Pittsburgh are simply glad Ms. Venturino has her bike back.

The Pittsburgh police department does not keep track of the number of stolen bicycles in the city, said police spokeswoman Diane Richard.

neigh_city

Gavan Gideon: ggideon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4910.


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