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On Biking: kudos to Hubway for bike sharing program

Posted by Your Town  July 25, 2011 09:45 AM

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I was in Washington, D.C. last week for a conference on juvenile justice. After the third consecutive day of intense but non-aerobic training I needed to get outside and shake things up. “A bicycle ride,” I thought, “now that would be perfect.” Washington’s bike sharing program looked inviting. Even better, I’d get a preview of Boston’s new bike sharing program, the New Balance Hubway.

The only problem was I hadn’t brought my helmet.

Fortunately, Georgetown is home to several local bike shops. I asked Noel, the manager of Bicycle Pro Shop, if I could borrow a helmet for a couple of hours. “No problem,” he said. “Do you want my credit card or my driver’s license for identification?” I asked. Noel just smiled and shook his head no.

Noel’s assistant, Abigail, made sure my helmet was the right size. She also helped me figure out the best (i.e., safest) way to roll downtown. Properly fitted and advised, I was good to go.

Signing up for a one-day pass was easy. The only problem is you need a credit card to rent a bike. For many people that’s not an issue, but for some residents of Boston this will be an impediment. Fortunately, Boston Bikes is partnering with the Boston Public Health Commission to provide 600 subsidized memberships with free helmets. They’re also working on removing ownership of a credit card as a barrier to renting a bike.

Good job, Hubway!

The bikes themselves are heavy, employ drum brakes, and only have three gears. Like my 1968 VW Bug, they are red, slow, and hard to stop. As long as you don’t try to set land-speed records and make sure to pay attention to the road up ahead, you’ll be fine.

I’ve heard rumblings that Boston’s bike share program will unleash a wave of helmet-less hooligans who won’t know what they’re doing, who will run red lights, pedal under the influence, and cause more accidents.

The truth is that cyclists using bike sharing programs are less likely to get into accidents than individuals who are using their own bikes. The truth is that when more people ride their bike there are less, not more accidents. The truth is there’s safety in numbers.

One way to increase safety is to encourage everyone (motorists, cyclists and pedestrians) to follow the rules of the road. This means education and enforcement: an ongoing public service campaign to explain just what those rules are, and tickets for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians who break those rules.

I’ve been asked, “Why don’t these bikes come with helmets?” The problem is, helmets are designed to work once and only once. After an accident they must be replaced. For this reason it’s really up to you to make sure you have a helmet that’s in good working order. The good news is that Hubway plans on partnering with local bike shops to provide helmets at cost. That’s not perfect (I’d prefer a vending machine stocked with energy bars, pizza and helmets), but it’s more than good enough.

The whole point of the bike share program is to encourage people to ride when they might have driven and to create healthy and sustainable transportation alternatives.

I realize there’s plenty of gridlock in D.C. (both political and traffic-related). But out on my bike I moved unimpeded while exploring the city. Sure I got lost, but that was okay: I wasn’t trying to get anywhere, I was just having fun. Thanks to the bike sharing program, I’m happy to report mission accomplished.

Jonathan Simmons is an avid cyclist. His book on cycling will be published next spring by Cadence Press.

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