Bike sharing in Boston gets $3m federal grant

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / July 9, 2010

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The federal government awarded $3 million yesterday to Boston’s planned bike sharing program, giving the city and its partners seed money to purchase the stations and bicycles needed to launch next spring.

The federal award, coupled with $2 million in previously pledged local sponsorships and grants, is enough to purchase roughly 500 bicycles and at least 50 rental stations, said Nicole Freedman, who runs Boston Bikes, the program that Mayor Thomas M. Menino created to make Boston more bike-friendly.

“This takes us over one of the main hurdles with bike share, which is having enough funding to have a launch size that we’re confident will succeed,’’ said Freedman, an Olympic cyclist. Too few bikes and rental stations could doom the program to irrelevancy, she said, like an “MBTA with two stops.’’

Bicycle sharing is established in Europe but nascent in the United States, where the first programs began this year in Minneapolis and Denver and another is pending in Washington, D.C.

Boston had been vying to be first, but city and regional planners pushed the program back a year because of insufficient funds. Menino and others did not want to invest tax dollars to start the program when budget cuts were necessary elsewhere. Officials expect annual costs to be covered by user fees.

The plan is to have people pay for membership, roughly $5 a day or $85 a year, for unlimited access to a network of bikes and stations. The bikes can be rented at one station and returned at another.

Trips shorter than 30 minutes will be free for members, while longer trips will require additional payments.

Advocates see it as a missing link to connect MBTA subway and bus routes, which is why the Federal Transit Administration selected the Boston bike sharing program in a $163 million grant program that was aimed largely at bus and streetcar investment. With the MBTA signing the grant application, the city convinced the federal government that bike sharing could be a viable component of a robust, green public transit network.

“They said it would be a unique idea and it would qualify,’’ said Eric Bourassa, transportation manager for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a regional agency working with Boston and the other communities. “One of the key concepts of bike share is that it can provide this enhanced mobility in coordination with transit.’’

The year’s delay will allow the city time to continue making streets more inviting for cyclists, said David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit group known as MassBike.

By fall, Boston will have created 35 miles of bike lanes, up from zero, and added 750 public racks.

“I’m very optimistic that bike sharing could be successful,’’ Watson said. “It opens up the possibility of biking for a lot of people who either don’t have bikes or don’t think of themselves as everyday bicyclists.’’

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at

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