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As Hub bike sharing hits the road: cheers, applause

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  July 28, 2011 03:24 PM

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NB Associates Inagural Ride.JPG

(Ion Sokhos)

A group of around one dozen cyclists, including 10 New Balance employees roll up to the company's Guest Street headquarters after an approximately 45-minute ride from City Hall.

As around one dozen of the first people to test out Boston’s bike share program cycled through the city today, they said they were greeted with cheers and applause from onlookers.

“It was a really great ride, and nice having a big group,” said Kelly Gray, 30, a digital marketing manager at New Balance, the title sponsor of the new Hubway program that launched today. “There was a lot of excitement around the city.”

Portions of their journey may have looked and sounded like they were involved in some competition, but the group wasn't racing. They kept a casual pace.

And, besides driving or hailing a cab, there may have been no quicker way for the group to have traveled to their destination.

NB Hubway Launch.JPG
(Ion Sokhos)
A Hubway bike close up.
Around noon, the team of riders began pedaling at City Hall Plaza. Some 45 minutes later, they arrived at their corporate headquarters office in a section of the city’s outlying western Brighton neighborhood that offers no direct public transportation to and from downtown Boston.

Gray, who owns and regularly rides her own bicycle, said the brand new, three-gear Hubway bikes were sturdy, easy to use, and the seats were “super comfortable.”

“I just rode from City Hall and my butt doesn’t hurt,” she said.

And, along with exercise, part of the group’s trip involved some pleasant scenery, rolling through the Esplanade alongside the Charles River, which Gray said “was really beautiful.”

The group could have made that same journey using several alternative public transit routes. Each would have involved riding a combination of at least one of the MBTA’s subway lines and then one of the T’s buses to arrive at or very nearby their Guest Street workplace. Or, they could have taken just one subway train and then walked nearly one mile to finish that trip.

The fastest of those varying public transit options would have picked them up at City Hall and dropped them off at New Balance only five minutes quicker, assuming fairly seamless transitions between subway and bus. Driving would have taken around 15 minutes.

Both Gray and her colleague, 38-year-old Greg Montello praised the bikes’ comfort, durability, and smaller details, like the metal guards that protect the bikes’ chains from coming loose or getting tangled with the rider’s pants.

“They’re great bikes,” said Montello, a former professional bike racer, who said he cycles almost exclusively to get around the area.

While he imagines he’ll continue using his own bike to commute to and from work and his Back Bay home, he said there’s a Hubway station by where he lives, which he plans to take advantage of periodically.

And, “If I’m at work and want to go make some quick errands or grab a bite to eat,” he said he may use some of the bikes parked in a station outside New Balance.

Another bonus of this particular ride, and trips made by a dozen other groups that departed City Hall Thursday destined for other sections of the city, was that the launch-day initiative helped distribute bikes to around one-third of the 41 stations in operation around Boston, explained 26-year-old Phil Capezio, the head mechanic for Hubway, which is being run by Portland, Oreg.-based Alta Bike Share.

The other 28 stations will soon be populated with silver two-wheelers once trucks drop off some of the remaining bikes at each kiosk.

Within the coming weeks, the program will feature 61 total stations for around 600 bikes. The hope is that the bike share system will used widely enough so that future expansion to other sections of Boston and neighboring communities will eventually happen.

Seven stations are active in Allston right now, according to Hubway's website. They are located at: Western and North Harvard Street; Harvard Stadium; Western Ave. and Soldiers Field Road; Union Square; Packard's Corner; Agganis Arena; and BU Central.

Three of those active stations are sponsored by Harvard University, which plans to add its fourth Allston kiosk in front of the Harvard Innovation Lab when that building opens later this year.

City officials have said a station at the intersection of Commonwealth and Harvard avenues that was installed last week then removed before the program began will return. Bike share officials are reassessing exactly where to install that station after police expressed safety concerns over its initial placement.

Standing near that intersection, 20-year-old Huayra Hnatko and 23-year-old María Elrio each said they had not heard about the bike share program before.

"Like Paris?," asked Hnatko, referring to a bike-share program called Vélib that launched in France's capital four years ago.

They each said they travel around Boston largely by public transit, but welcomed the idea and hope to test the bikes out as a possible alternative soon.

Bike programs "are good for exercise and reducing pollution," said Elrio, who is in the middle of a four-month visit to the Hub from her native Spain to learn English at the Approach International Student Center in Allston.

But, naturally, not everyone – especially those who mainly drive and/or walk to get around – is fan of the new system. Some have said they fear it will further crowd city streets with more cyclists, particularly those who are novice riders and others who are either oblivious to or blatantly disobey the rules of the road.

However, at least one member of a group that some might expect would view cyclists as their arch-enemy, said he didn’t mind the new bike program.

“Everybody has their own rights,” said 45-year-old taxi driver Sohail Ghazali, of Everett, parked in a Metro Cab van on Commonwealth Avenue in Allston. “Walking, biking – it doesn’t matter. It’s not bothering me. I’m a careful driver. If I were a reckless driver it might bother me.”

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.

NB Hubway Brighton Landing Launch.JPG

(Ion Sokhos)

A team of New Balance employees park for a group photo.

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