So what makes a city a world class city? Once you get past the basics of a healthy economy and a safe community you’re left with the usual suspects: first class museums, interesting neighborhoods to explore, and good places to ride your bike.
Until recently, Boston has always done well on all but the last of these measures. But thanks to efforts by Mayor Menino, MassBike, Livable Streets, and numerous activists, Boston has become a better place to ride.
Cause, effect, or a little bit of both, Hubway (Boston’s bike sharing program) has helped nudge us ever closer to the tipping point, that moment when riding around town is safe and convenient. In just four months last year the users of Hubway collectively logged enough miles to travel from Boston to Los Angeles and back. 23 times.
With Hubway set to reopen next week, I was interested in hearing from the Gold Club riders (the 6 men and women who logged the most trips on Hubway) about their experience with biking around town. Here’s what I learned.
To begin with, none of these Gold Club members are what you’d describe as a “hardcore cyclist.” Typical of the group was Andrew Schwartz, who prior to joining Hubway had not ridden a bike in years. Likewise, Caroline Fridmar (who racked up 166 trips on Hubway last year) is a self-described “casual cyclist” who likes to pedal from her home in the North End to her job as a concierge at the Ritz Carlton. Hubway bikes are so comfortable that she often wore high heels and a dress for her commute.
Most of the Hubway riders I spoke with don’t own their own bike. For Wei Sum Li, the reason is obvious: “I’d worry it would get stolen.” For Love Lee Nickerson, not owning a bike means she doesn’t have to worry about ongoing maintenance (think of Hubway as a two-wheeled Zipcar).
Cost was a big factor for many of these Hubway super-users: the pricing structure means members aren’t charged for trips under 30-minutes. “I needed transportation for when I was going to Harvard Business School,'' said Ahmed Makani of Allston. "If you join all of your rides are basically free as long as you keep it under 30 minutes.”
Love Lee Nickerson never planned on being a “bike commuter.” After about a week she realized that she was: “Every morning when I started to leave for work I’d reach for my helmet. I wasn’t planning on riding every day, but that’s exactly what I did.”
To Nickerson, riding to work is a no-brainer: “It’s nice to be outside instead of underground on a crowded train. I didn’t know that was bothering me, but it was. I’m a big fan of public transportation, but having the option of choosing your own route and being the boss gave me a sense of freedom that was easy to embrace. Also, my commute time was cut in half. This was easy to adapt to.”
Commuting to work by bicycle is great, but for Wei Sum Li, Hubway offered a chance to explore the city. Caroline Fridmar has even recommended Hubway to guests at the Ritz Carlton. She’s happy to report, “They all loved it.”
Nickerson uses Hubway “To run errands on my bike. It cut my time in half to go to the grocery store. All of a sudden I didn’t have to think about going somewhere. I’d just bring my helmet.”
So what’s the downside of Hubway? Makani acknowledged that sometimes the kiosks run out of bikes, though Fridmar noted that you can download a smartphone app that lets you find the nearest available bike.
Interested in a test ride? Andrew’s Schwartz’s advice is simple: “Borrow a helmet and give it a try. You’ll get hooked.”
Hubway has changed the face of the city. It’s also changed how Nickerson thinks about her future. In June she’s moving to Mongolia for a two year stint in the Peace Corps, though she reported: “I almost didn’t go because I didn’t want to give up my Hubway membership. Wherever I live when I come back to the U.S. it will have to have a bike share program.”
On Biking columnist Jonathan Simmons is an avid cyclist.
Readers: tell us your stories about Hubway.