How safe is your city? Put it to the bicycle test

BUENOS AIRES Wed Oct 8, 2008 4:40pm EDT

1 of 4. Ignacio Jardon places a bike next to a tree in Buenos Aires, October 3, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Enrique Marcarian

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - How long will an unchained bicycle last on a city street before someone steals it?

Using hidden cameras and cheap bicycles as bait, an Argentine publicist set out to gauge crime in different neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. The longer it takes for the bike to be stolen the safer the area, is his hypothesis.

"It's not a statistic but in a way it shows that the places where the bicycle gets robbed really quickly perhaps the quality of life is poorer," said Mariano Pasik, 37.

Pasik speeds up the videos, sets them to music and puts them on a website (www.lapruebadelabicleta.com). He hopes other videographers will join his nonprofit "Bicycle Test" project and create a worldwide insecurity index.

It could become an informal crime gauge akin to the "Big Mac Index," which compares the cost of the same McDonald's sandwich in different countries to give an idea of buying power of people in different places, Pasik said.

Pasik, who runs his own publicity firm Liebre Amotinada Ideas (Mutinous Hare Ideas), said the project is part art, part reality show, part journalism and part fun.

But it is definitely not vigilantism. Pasik blurs the thieves' faces and was shocked at comments on his website where people have called for the death penalty for thieves.

"What you see on the videos is that they aren't professional thieves, they aren't people who went out to rob. They are people who ran into temptation and decided to commit a crime, they become thieves at the moment they take the bike," he said.

He said he is also trying to show that the media fascination with crime, in places like Buenos Aires where armed robberies are rampant, is part of the problem.

"The popular fantasy is that the bike will be stolen in seconds, and it isn't quite like that," Pasik said.

In the latest video posted, a bike lasted an hour without being stolen in the unsavory Constitucion neighborhood. But on the upscale shopping street of Santa Fe, a bike lasted a few short minutes before it was stolen.

A neighborhood "passes" the bicycle test when an hour passes or when the filmer gets tired or runs out of batteries.

Fans of the site have offered Pasik free bicycles and sent in their own tests from Uruguay and Spain.

On the videos, the thieves often seem more like opportunists than hardened criminals.

"You see the person thinking and thinking and thinking, coming and going. Sometimes they talk by phone. They go away. They come back. It's more about an internal dilemma between good and bad, than about the bicycle itself," Pasik said.

Or maybe they are just in shock to see a bicycle alone without a heavy lock, an unusual sight in Buenos Aires, a dense metropolis of more than 13 million people.

So far in the Bicycle Test, no woman has stolen a bike.

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