On Big Day for Bike-Share, Boston Mayor Envisions World Class Cycling City

Several American cities have made halting strides towards implementing bike-share systems recently, but which will be the first to launch the kind of robust network needed for public biking to go mainstream? Right now, the runaway favorite is Boston.

bixi.jpgIn Montreal, the Bixi bike-share network is so popular that it’s slated to expand ahead of schedule. Photo: Bike-sharing Blog

The Globe reported yesterday that Boston’s regional planning agency has awarded a contract to the same company that launched Montreal’s Bixi bike-share system earlier this year. Boston planners say the system specs are still getting hashed out along with other contract details. Many questions remain unanswered, but signs are promising so far.

In a report on the Times’ Green Inc blog this morning, a spokesperson for Bixi "indicated that the Boston system will initially offer 2,500 bikes at 290 stations in downtown Boston." A system of that size and density would place Boston in the ranks of cities like Barcelona and Paris, where public bikes have become a critical component of the transportation network. Officials hope to expand the Boston system to neighboring Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville soon after it launches.

It’s also worth noting that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, running for re-election this fall, is not distancing himself from the city’s bike-share plan. In fact, he’s embracing it. "I think Boston is the perfect venue to roll out a forward-thinking bike share program," he said in a press statement released yesterday. "Boston is a world class city, and over the last two years we have made tremendous strides in turning it into a world class bicycling city."

A big part of Bixi’s attraction is that it’s solar-powered, requiring no electrical wiring or underground utility work. In addition to Boston, London also announced yesterday that it will use the Bixi system for an ambitious bike-share network: 6,000 bikes at 400 locations.

Stations that can be installed without a jackhammer are probably a prerequisite for bike-share operations in New York, where streetwork can turn into an expensive, bureaucratic tangle. DOT released a request for expressions of interest from potential bike-share operators last fall, and a study published by the Department of City Planning this spring recommended that New York start its network with 10,000 bikes.

  • The whole planet is crying out for New York and other cities to implement bike share programs. Bring it on, it can’t be soon enough.

    Earlier today I typed up the following note on City Planning’s “email the Commissioner” webform, but for some reason it wouldn’t go through, so what the heck I’ll post it here:

    This is a design suggestion for the supplier of any possible future City-run Bike Share program.

    The bikes of any official NYC bike share program should have an NYPD-like aesthetic. They should perhaps be mostly NYPD-style blue in color, or, if not imitative of NYPD looks, then they should at least strongly convey an “official New York” or, alternatively, “tough like New York” identity. Of course none of that precludes them from being good-looking, which is also a very important ingredient!

    I believe that a strong “New York” visual identity, whether it conveys “tough,” “official,” or “NYPD-like,” or some combination of those, will go a long, long way towards encouraging cultural acceptance of a bike share program.

    Anyone agree?

  • biker

    Please wait for more details before celebrating.

    Note that velib uses an ad based approach: the daily fee of E1 (or less for long term users) is subsidised by ads.

    Bixi has talked about not using ads, which means a daily fee of up to $5….which is a tad steep.

    Also, the number of stations, “290 in downtown Boston” is simply impossible. Dowtnwon Boston is smaller than central park. They either mean the area covered by the MAPC, or plan a phased approach where 290 stations will happen in year 10. I wouldnt hold in faith in that number.

  • I bet “downtown Boston” for this purpose includes Back Bay, South End, all the other close-in walkable areas. Maybe Charlestown.

  • Jeremy

    The problem here in Boston is that there is no bicycle infrastructure, and most main streets are designed for high-speed auto traffic, which is aided by a lack of enforcement just like in NYC.

    Mayor Menino decided to ride his bike for morning leisure a couple years ago, then hired a “director of bicycle programs” so he could pretend to do something positive. Since then we have seen a total of FIVE miles of simple bike lanes and no efforts whatsoever to address the main disincentive to cycling: aggressive driving. It is unfortunate because in most cases biking is the easiest way to get around, especially in the western part of the city which is served only by median-running CBD-oriented light rail and a few unreliable crosstown bus routes.

    Unfortunately this bike share program is not accompanied by any new infrastructure, which would be necessary if anyone is to use this program. Proper infrastructure and enforcement would move many inexperienced bikers from the on sidewalks to the streets and improve the safety of everyone. But who am I kidding? This mayor doesn’t care. He can’t even get the police bicycle unit to ride safely.

  • Paul

    Hope it works, but just like #4 said: INFRASTRUCTURE FIRST! They’ll need to sink $50-$100 million into infrastructure then Boston would be an incredible city to bike in. Until then, count me out. I didn’t touch a bike the whole time I lived there, and I’m a daily rider and use my bike for everything.

  • PaulCJr

    One of the quickest ways that Boston could help promote cycling in the city and doing so at low cost would be to lower speed limits and enforce traffic laws. As a cyclist, slow moving traffic is far more pleasant to ride along side then high speed traffic. Just think about riding down commonwealth and not have to be scared that you will be side swiped by a fast moving car.

  • I \v/ NY

    wow this is really taking off

    earlier this week seattle was trying out bike sharing and this weekend portland tries it

  • Doug

    I live in New York but work in Boston during the week, and while I agree with many of the comments about Boston’s biking infrastructure, I’d say that Boston has quickly moved well beyond New York in terms of biking in many other ways. Historically, Boston has been a nightmare for peds and bikes, and I’m sure that if you lived here two years ago and only based your assessment on that time you’d be correct to say that it was a dangerous place in which to bike, But things have changed in huge ways and quickly.

    The biggest change is sheer numbers. A few years ago I rarely saw bikers on the road other than die-hard spandexers and messengers. Bike parking was non-existent and there were few bikes locked even to parking meters. Today, ride your bike through Harvard Square in Cambridge or across the Mass Ave bridge into the heart of Back Bay and you’ll see tons of bikes ridden by many different types of people. Perhaps because of the huge number of students in and around Boston, people have been more willing to hop on a bike to get around; not too many 20-year-olds are bringing their SUVs to college in the city. Because of these numbers, I think drivers are getting used to having to look out for riders. I’m almost never honked at when I ride in the street. In New York, you so much as look at a bike near a busy street and a taxi cab is on the horn.

    Last summer, I followed either separated bike paths or painted bike lanes for about 50% of my 6-mile commute from where I’m staying to my office. This summer it’s close to 100%.

    Bikes get stolen here, and plenty of people still use and carry giant New York locks, chains, and more to secure their bikes, but near my office I see plenty of bikes locked up for days with little more than a cable lock or old-school Kryptonite, the kind that can be opened with a Bic pen. People leave lights and accessories on their bikes and they’re swiped with far less frequency than in New York.

    One of the big differences between New York and Boston is that in New York, it’s the center of the city that’s getting the cycling improvements while the outer boroughs get the scraps. That makes it hard for people who live in Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx to bike into work. But in Boston, the cities such as Cambridge and Somerville are installing bike lanes at a rapid clip, meaning that the majority of people’s commutes are relatively safe and easy. It’s almost as if Boston HAS to add more cycling infrastructure to keep up with the influx of people who are coming in and demanding it.

    Additionally, the T has a very sane view of bikes. They have locked bike cages at a couple of outlying T stations (profiled on Streetfilms, I believe) and even have a Charlie Card (the T’s MetroCard) that promotes biking. Commuter rail schedules actually have bike icons on them to tell you at what times and on what trains you can bring bikes.

    Boston’s cycling environment is far from perfect. The winter weather chews up roads and you certainly have to be more mindful of pot holes and other street hazards than you might have to in other cities. Boston has a reputation for bad driving, but I think it’s more of a meme that’s taken hold than a reality. Really, are drivers good anywhere? And there are still plenty of jerks: yesterday I was yelled at by a driver for waiting for a left turn arrow in a “left turn on green arrow only” lane. The driver then passed me — on MY left, meaning he crossed into oncoming traffic — and went straight, flouting the giant arrow on the ground and all of the signs. Jerks are jerks, wherever they are.

    Despite this, I think Boston has reached a tipping point. With so many cyclists and commuters taking to the streets, the positive feedback loop that started is getting stronger. More bikes on the streets are leading to more bikes on the streets. Within five years I think you’ll see Boston become a premiere cycling city in the country, perhaps behind only Portland, Oregon. There will still be a long way to go to tame the city’s cow-path-like streets and car traffic, but New York could learn a lot from its baseball rival.

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