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Dethroning The Automobile – Biking In Boston

July 30, 2012

(One in an occasional series of posts on removing cars from their privileged place in American society.)

Hubway bike station in downtown Boston
credit: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe

This past weekend marked the first anniversary of Boston’s “Hubway” biking system.  Hubway has exceeded expectations with over 7,000 members who’ve taken over 350,000 trips.  Monthly usage has climbed every month this year (starting in March—New England winters, even mild ones, make for poor biking conditions) and now exceeds 2,000 trips per day.

Hubway is expanding to nearby Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville later this year.  It’s also expanding from downtown outward to more residential Boston neighborhoods like Allston, Charlestown, Dorchester and Roxbury.

Here’s how it works:

The bike rental system is built on separate municipal contracts and a regional agreement among the four communities and the operator, Alta Bicycle Share. Each has assembled its own start-up financing through grants, sponsorships, and tax dollars; a typical station with a full complement of bikes costs $50,000.

Membership fees ($85 for a year, $5 for a day), corporate and nonprofit sponsorship, and advertising offset operating costs, including maintenance and Hubway’s tending of stations to keep them from being too full or too empty for too long.

Members pick up a bike at one Hubway station and return it to another one near their destination.  There are financial incentives to keep the trips short (i.e., under 30 minutes).

The biggest political issue in any city is land because, almost by definition, cities are places where there are lots of people competing for control and use of a small piece of land.  In Boston, that’s meant carving out space to store the Hubway bicycles when they’re not in use (as in the picture above), and making room for them on the city’s streets—primarily by painting bike lane markers (below) on scores of the city’s busiest streets.  Support for bicycling has also been institutionalized for the past five years in the city’s Transportation Department through the “Boston Bikes” office.

Hubway has had, so far at least, a minimal impact on automobile drivers.  The minor inconvenience of staying out of marked bike lanes is probably more than offset by the decrease in the number of cars on downtown streets.  What Hubway has done is to make bicycling a much easier and more attractive option:  no need to buy a bicycle, no need to park and store it, no need to worry about it being stolen.

Dethroning the automobile isn’t always about big, dramatic changes.  It’s also about the steady accumulation of small changes that make alternative modes of transportation more attractive, one commuter/traveler at a time.

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From → City Life, Politics

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