By Sam Haas, city editor
Boston bike-share program Hubway’s recent expansion brings a new docking station to Huntington Avenue, potentially increasing access to the program for Northeastern University (NU) and Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) students.
The expansion – Hubway’s first major growth in Boston since 2013 – was scheduled to add 11 new stations across the city by Oct. 9, although Hubway’s online map only displayed 10 of the 11 at press time. The Huntington Avenue docks opened on Oct. 2, and two other locations were unveiled the same day.
The new bike docks benefit people seeking quick routes to specific places, according to Max Johnson, 32, of Boston. On Sunday, Johnson rode a bike from State Street to the WIT location to visit the Museum of Fine Arts.
“Before, I would have gone further away [to stations near] Brigham Circle or the Fens,” Johnson said. “It could be a hassle.”
In addition to the bike docks on Huntington Avenue, NU students have quick access to ones previously installed outside Ruggles Station and near the campus’s North Lot.
The other new locations are spread across Brighton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Fenway, Charlestown and South Boston, in an attempt to broaden and strengthen Hubway’s base in the city.
“We are thrilled to be able to expand Hubway to provide even more residents, commuters and visitors with the opportunity to take advantage of bike share,” Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Gina Fiandaca said in a press release on Oct. 6.
Hubway launched in 2011 with 60 stations and 600 bikes. After the expansions are completed, Hubway will have 108 stations and nearly 1,100 bikes in Boston. The bike-share program offers users several usage options: annual memberships, monthly passes, and 72- or 24-hour access.
Riders can rent and return bikes at any station, which means Hubway’s usefulness is dependent on stations with open spaces near a rider’s destination, Maria Davis, 25, of Boston, said.
“I like the new station because it’s right by my apartment,” Davis said. “But it can fill up at night.”
Davis found the Wentworth docks already full of bikes on Wednesday evening, forcing her to search for an open spot at a nearby station in the Fens.
Balancing growth in new areas with availability in existing ones is a key concern for bike-sharing programs everywhere, according to Peter Furth, a Northeastern University professor of civil and environmental engineering who is part of an advisory group for Bike Boston.
“There are two main issues, and there’s tension between them,” Furth said. “One is providing the needed density… When you try to return your bike and the station’s full, you don’t want to next one to be too far away. On the other hand, you want to expand. Neighborhoods in the city are saying, ‘Hey, we want Hubway to come to us.’”
Hubway and Bike Boston officials hope their new stations will mark progress toward both goals, according to Benjy Kantor, a marketing manager with Motivate, the company that operates Hubway.
“The idea is to grow a little bit organically, deliberately and, hopefully, sustainability,” Kantor said.
While expanded bike share is a step in the right direction for Boston, the city has a ways to go to become truly good for cyclists, according to Furth.
“One of the things that frustrates me is our city government wants to have an image of being bike-friendly,” Furth said. “That’s what they use Hubway for – and that’s a good thing that they’re doing it – but they’re really failing on the bike network.”
According to Davis, however, Hubway is a safe way to navigate the city.
“During the day, it’s perfectly safe,” Davis said. “At night I don’t like it as much, but you get used to it. You just have to be aware and know what you’re doing.”
Ultimately, Hubway is largely a separate question from bike safety, Furth said. While Hubway’s expansion is a good thing for Bostonians, safety problems need to be addressed, too.
“It will need a fundamentally different commitment from the city,” Furth said. “There has to be a priority to creating and completing a bicycling network.”
Photo by Scotty Schenck