Hubway nears launch with 6 sites

July 15, 2011
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Hubway, the city’s innovative public bicycle-rental system, is aiming to launch in less than two weeks with at least six stations proposed in the Longwood Medical Area (LMA) and Brigham Circle, the Gazette has learned.

But details are few and community outreach appears to be virtually nonexistent—even though the corporate-run, advertising-draped system reportedly would have some stations on public sidewalks, next to parks and even on the street in place of parking spaces.

The Mayor’s Office and Oregon-based Alta Bicycle Share, which will operate the program, did not respond to Gazette questions. They have yet to announce any details of Hubway station locations citywide.

Widely praised even before its opening, Hubway will allow people to rent a bike from a specially designed, solar-powered station and return it to any other station around the city. Short trips will be free, while there will be a fee for longer uses. The so-called bike share system will start with 600 bikes at 61 locations around Boston, according to a city press release from earlier this year.

MASCO, the umbrella organization of LMA institutions, worked with Alta about six weeks ago to drum up sponsorships and brainstorm locations for Hubway stations, according to MASCO President Marilyn Swartz-Lloyd and planner Ulla Hester. They said Alta had a tentative launch date of July 26, but has not updated MASCO.

The six local Hubway stations proposed by MASCO and Alta are: Huntington Avenue in Brigham Circle near Penguin Pizza; Longwood Avenue at Autumn Street at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC); Longwood and Brookline avenues in front of BIDMC; Avenue Louis Pasteur at Longwood near Harvard Medical School; the Fenway at Avenue Louis Pasteur in front of Simmons College; and Evans Way at the Fenway near the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Swartz-Lloyd and Hester emphasized that the locations are proposals and that they do not know what Alta will actually do. There may be other local Hubway station locations that MASCO is unaware of, they said.

The Simmons and Gardner Museum locations are next to parks and would need approval from either the state Department of Conservation (DCR) and Recreation or the Boston Parks Commission, Swartz-Lloyd and Hester said. A DCR spokesperson could not immediately comment on the Hubway plan, and the Parks Commission did not return a Gazette phone call.

Some of the other stations would be on private property, while others would be on the sidewalk or street, Hester said.

“Many of the stations [will be] on city property. Easements aren’t required,” Alta spokesperson Alison Cohen told the Gazette in May. But in fact, use of the sidewalk requires approval of the Boston Public Improvement Commission (PIC). Alta is quietly in the process of seeking sidewalk-use permits one by one, a PIC staffer told the Gazette.

Alta’s plan appears to be to first launch stations at sites that “nobody is concerned about,” then seek approval for other sites later, the PIC staffer said.

The proposed Brigham Circle station would be on-street and take the place of “a couple parking spaces near Penguin Pizza,” said Hester.

Dermot Doyne, owner of Penguin Pizza at 735 Huntington, told the Gazette that he is enthusiastic about the possibility.

“Two bike share spots outside the Penguin is acceptable,” Doyne wrote in an email. “We sell healthy food and would love the business.”

Doyne said his original understanding was that the proposal is for a sidewalk station in front of the Brigham Circle veterans memorial, which he supports even more for deterring “aggressive and loud” panhandlers there.

Doyne said he heard about the proposal from Mission Hill Main Streets Executive Director Richard Rouse. Rouse told the Gazette that he heard about the proposal only as “scuttlebutt,” not from any direct talks with Alta.

Indeed, there is little sign of community outreach from Alta. Cohen, the company’s spokesperson, told the Gazette in May that, “We’ll be out in the community” soliciting public input. But asked for details, she said, “I don’t know exactly what our process would be.”

There has been no local process so far. At some point, Alta set up a Hubway website, stations.thehubway.com, that allows people to submit ideas for Hubway locations. But the site has been unpublicized aside from appearing as a link on the City of Boston’s bicycle program website.

The Hubway site also claims to have a feature that customers could use to register for the bike rental service “at the end of June.” But as of early this week, the link to the feature did not work.

Aside from the six location stations, LMA institutions have proposed sponsoring Hubway at two Fenway locations and at the MBTA’s Ruggles and Aquarium T Stations, according to Swartz-Lloyd and Hester.

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