APBP Spotlight on: Hubway Bike Share System, Boston
Phil Goff, Alta Planning + Design - Boston
(published in e-news, June 12, 2012)
Interview with Kris Carter, Interim Director of the Boston Bikes program, and David Loutzenheiser, Transportation Planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), responsible for regional bicycle and pedestrian planning.
Hubway is the bike-share system in the City of Boston. Currently, there are 61 stations with 610 bikes throughout the city with an expansion planned for surrounding cities, bringing nearly one thousand shared bikes to Greater Boston by mid-summer 2012. Alta Bicycle Share is the operator of the system with its sister company Alta Planning + Design taking care of the site planning and permitting. Recently Alta's Boston office manager Phil Goff sat down with Kris Carter and David Loutzenheiser to discuss the program.
Has Hubway met its expectations for the city and region with regards to ridership, operations and safety?
Kris: Hubway has exceeded its expectations for the city when we look at total trips taken, our current membership and safety. Last season from the end of July through mid-November, 142,000 trips were taken by Hubway users. Since our re-launch this year in mid-March, as of the end of May we've already had an additional 100,000 trips! Our membership is also strong – 6,700 annual members on the system and another 13,000 casual users since the launch last July. Despite some early concerns about how bike sharing would fare on Boston streets with "Boston drivers,” we've only had one reported accident and the individual walked away.
David: Hubway launches regionally later this summer, and we expect similar success to Boston. Anticipation is building in each of the communities among both residents and political leaders. In fact, my greatest concern is that demand will outstrip the supply of stations and bikes.
Do you think the Hubway network has changed the way residents, workers and visitors travel throughout the heart of the city?
Kris: For cyclists in Boston, we all knew that this would be a "if we build it, they will come” situation. Boston is compact and mostly flat. It's a great cycling city and Hubway has allowed us to share that secret with thousands of people. I think without a doubt it's transforming not just how people get around the city but how Bostonians view bicycles as a legitimate form of transportation.
David: The ease and convenience of Hubway has enabled a number of new cyclists to try out and use the system on a regular basis. Bike share perhaps encourages new users of bicycle transportation more than any other program. Building a constituency of new cyclists further normalizes cycling as a practical means of transportation.
Has the presence of the Hubway network altered the need and desire to expand the bike network in the city?
Kris: The two things go hand-in-hand. Thanks to the Mayor's push to make Boston a world-class cycling city and the hard work of Nicole Freedman, the former director of Boston Bikes, the city has added over 50 miles of bike lanes in the last four years and launched a comprehensive network planning process. Hubway has put that process on the fast track. As more people take to the streets on two wheels, we need to make sure we are accommodating them and carving out space on the road network for them. Bike sharing has expanded the number of riders in the city and thus, the bicycle community. So when the city is facing difficult decisions, like removing a travel lane or parking, there is more support to make those changes.
David: There was a fair amount of criticism from some people prior to launch that Boston should "complete” the bicycle network prior to launching bike share. However, one must capitalize on the opportunities that are available at the time, and Boston did just that. As Kris mentioned, bike share and infrastructure development go hand in hand and feed off each other.
What advice would you give other cities looking to implement a bike-share system?
Kris: We were fortunate to have such great early adopters with our educational institutions and hospitals. Some bike share systems are aimed more towards tourists and visitors; in Boston we do address that market but we think of bike share as being fully integrated into the public transportation system. I think that is key to making bike share not just a novelty, but also a true force in shifting how we travel in a city. Currently we are facing a few challenges – helmet compliance and the request for growth are the biggest. Even though there are dozens of retailers in Boston offering subsidized helmets, we still have low compliance and are working on ways to address that this summer. The challenge with growth is to expand in ways that makes sense for the system, not to fling stations to neighborhoods just because there is a request, but to act smartly and grow from the core. Systems with too many satellite stations don't do as well and dilute the system as a whole.
David: Bike share comes in many sizes and shapes ranging from simple manual checkout systems with stock bikes to robust third-generation credit card-enabled, solar-powered pay-at-the-station systems. GPS-based, station-less systems are in development. Evaluate the range of bike share systems, their costs and technologies to see what is appropriate for your area. Envision what a built-out system would look like, the players and politics that are involved. Expansion of the Hubway system has brought together four distinctly different municipalities, each with a strong desire for bike share, but with different constraints and ideas of how to implement the system. In other words, understand who the players are, engage them early, and expect to spend more time than expected working out the details. Hubway is a better system as a result.
What are the next steps for Hubway regarding expansion, promotion and safety initiatives?
Kris: We are excited to be expanding this summer with 11 more stations and into new neighborhoods. Also this summer the communities surrounding Boston will come on board with their networks, creating a truly regional transportation system. Boston has also been very committed to equity in the Hubway rollout, offering $5 annual memberships to low-income users. Sam Herr, Program Manager at Boston Bikes, is in the community every day working with our partners to make sure eligible riders are taking advantage of the program.
On the safety front, we are working to provide helmets right at some of the stations and we continue to offer low-cost helmets to those who sign up online for annual memberships. We're doing some on-street helmet giveaways this summer as well. Boston Bikes is also working on a series of short videos on bike safety that will be available online for new riders to watch and learn the rules of the road.
David: Hubway has been planned from the beginning as a regional system, following Boston's lead to expand to surrounding municipalities. MAPC has been working with many of the 101 communities in Metro Boston to eventually join the program when it makes financial and logistical sense. This summer, three additional communities will launch Hubway stations: Cambridge (at least 22 stations), Somerville (eight stations), and Brookline (four stations). Along with Boston's planned expansion, the system will double in size by the end of the summer.
Photos courtesy Phil Goff, Alta Planning + Design