On Aug. 23, Cynthia Graber stepped out of the Davis Square MBTA station in Somerville, turned left, and headed behind the station to retrieve her bike, same as always.
The bike is her primary means of transportation. Graber, 46, a science journalist, uses it virtually every day, sometimes to get around Somerville, where she lives, and sometimes to pedal to Davis to catch a train to Cambridge or Boston.
A few hours earlier, she had locked it to one of the steel bike racks set up by the T on a patch of scrubby grass next to the station.
But now as Graber returned to retrieve it, her $1,200 bike, a gift from her father, was gone.
Graber said she was stunned and angry, but also baffled.
“It made no sense to me,” she said when we met at the scene of the crime last week. She had used an expensive, heavy, key-operated, U-shaped lock to fasten her bike to one of the racks.
“It would have taken a lot to hack through it, and this was on a Friday afternoon, with lots of people around,” she said.
Yet nothing appeared amiss. There was no broken lock discarded in the dirt, no evidence of tampering with the rack.
And then, as Graber stared down at the rack in frustration, the way her bike was stolen suddenly became obvious to her. The rack, she noticed for the first time, wasn’t bolted to the ground.
Her eyes focused on the holes in the steel tubing at the bottom of the rack; they should have been filled with heavy-duty bolts to hold the rack to the ground. But the holes were empty.
Graber grabbed a hold of one of the rack’s two outside supporting legs. It lifted easily. And as she held it a couple of inches off the ground, it became painfully obvious that anything locked to that section of the rack could be effortlessly slipped off, no bolt cutters or other tools necessary.
“I realized that someone could literally lift the bike rack and slide the whole thing, lock and all, right off the rack,” she said.
I shared what Graber had shown me with the manufacturer of the racks, a couple of local bike shop owners, and the T. Nobody convinced me it’s OK to leave the racks unbolted.
I also looked at the manufacturer’s website. The racks depicted there were bolted into concrete. I checked out the same brand of racks used by the T at its nearby Porter Square and Alewife stations. All of them were bolted down to concrete or another hard surface.
“That’s what bicyclists expect: that the racks they are using are properly bolted down,” Graber said. “There’s always the risk your bike will get stolen, but not because the rack isn’t installed right. That’s unacceptable.”
Some of those I spoke with raised what I consider to be a weak defense of the T’s failure to properly install the rack. They said Graber should have locked her bike to a different part of the rack, instead of one of the outside supporting legs. If she had locked her bike to one of the interior portions of the rack, which is designed differently from the legs, it would have been impossible for the thief to slip the lock because the interior sections are welded closed, they said.
But I think the onus is on the T. It provided bike racks to its customers that were not installed properly. It shouldn’t be up to users to inspect bike racks for possible installation flaws before locking up their bikes.
Graber contacted me because she wanted my help in getting the T to cover her loss, which includes her bike (a four-year-old Cannondale), helmet, lock, lights, and saddlebag, totaling about $1,500.
The T made a blanket statement disavowing responsibility for any stolen bike. It also said that it has recently added bike racks at some stations where space is so tight that racks have been placed on grass or soil, where “it is difficult or impractical to secure them.”
The T also said it was looking into making the unbolted racks “more secure.”
A brief amount of research online shows racks can be secured on soil or grass by pouring small concrete footings for the bolts, or by using bolts that are marketed for use in soil or grass.
Graber said she wants other bicyclists to be forewarned.
“My bike was more than just property to me,” she said. “This was painful and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”
While at Davis, I watched as bicyclists arrived and locked their bikes. It didn’t take long for me to notice some locking their bikes to an outside supporting leg of one of the dubious racks. I warned them.
“Wow,” said one of them. “I didn’t realize that. But I’ll never do it again.”
Time for the T to step up.
Flight still too much
Jimmy Ashe of Dorchester is still battling over the almost $17,000 he paid to Aer Lingus to fly to Ireland for a family wedding last month with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. Ashe had originally booked tickets for about $2,100, but that flight got canceled at the last moment due to what Aer Lingus called “technical issues with the aircraft.”
Ashe scrambled to get on a flight the next day, but encountered problems reaching customer service. Later that day, he passed on the airline’s offer to fly his family to Ireland via a connecting flight, at no additional cost. Ashe said he feared they would miss a connection due to the unpredictability of traveling with a small child.
So, by the time he booked, the only seats available were in business class, at a total cost of $16,874.
In a recent column, I wrote that charging the Ashes almost eight times the cost of the original airfare seemed wrong, not least because it was the airline’s fault that their original flight was canceled.
Since the column appeared (and was picked up by news media in Ireland), Aer Lingus has refunded $4,700, plus $1,500 in vouchers for use on the airline. Ashe, however, is still fighting. He has filed a dispute with his credit card company.