Boston Bikes and Hubway are in the midst of a public input process for adding shared bicycle stations to several neighborhoods in Boston. Not only are these additions welcome for the general public, but the city has decided to use a local start-up, CoUrbanize, to solicit input. CoUrbanize has a map- and tag-based comment database, and seems like a good, simple platform in the often-confusing public comment sphere. So all systems are in place to get some good comments, and get the stations on the street, right?
Not really, because instead of putting the stations in thoughtful locations where they will do the most good, they are scattered across the study area and located in places where they make no sense (while leaving out obvious locations like major commercial corridors and transit stations). So instead of having a good discussion about the merits and detractions of various locations, the public is now discussing how some of these locations make no sense at all as bike sharing locations (at least in the current iteration of bike share), and why other, disparate locations, would work much better. This seems less productive than would be desirable.
An issue seems to be that the station maps were created to cover as much of the map as possible without much thought to whether the locations were best of bike sharing. This seems like a political play to keep constituents happy, but seems to assume that constituents will be content if their neighborhood is covered by a circle on a map, but not care whether or not there is a useful network of shared bicycles. The Jamaica Plan expansion—the largest of the three proposed—is a good example of how this plays out. Most of the study area is in or near a circle buffered around a location. However, the way in which the stations were placed means that there are no bikes at any Orange Line station, and that the southern portion of the Centre Street business district is underserved as well. For anyone with more than a passing interest in Hubway—and most public commenters likely fall in to this camp—the illogic of some of these station placement is obvious.
There are three neighborhoods being studied right now: Jamaica Plain/Roxbury, South Boston and Charlestown. All of them seem amenable to bike sharing. Yet several of the locations chosen in each bear little resemblance to successful bike sharing locations. Let’s review several important factors in siting a bike share kiosk, which I’ll define as
The Five -tions of Bike Sharing
- Population density (there needs to be someone to use it)
- Destination (it needs to be somewhere people want to go)
- Elevation (bike share locations on hilltops require frequent rebalancing as people take advantage of gravity in one direction only)
- Connection (they need to be part of a dense network)
- Transportation (bike share needs to complement existing transportation infrastructure)
- JP-1 fails due to its location atop Mission Hill. Which is steep! It has population and destination, but would likely require frequent balancing as riders took bikes down the hill but walked up. This would be better moved to the VA Hospital on South Huntington or to Jackson Square, which inexplicably falls outside any of the circles, despite being a major transit hub with significant new development taking place.
- JP-2 is a logical location, at a business node on a dense transit corridor.
- JP-3 makes no sense and fails on all five of the -tions above. It is in a relatively sparsely-populated part of JP, away from any transportation infrastructure and high up on a hill. In addition, the only way to access the rest of the proposed and existing network is by navigating the bicycle-unfriendly Pond Street-Arborway corridor. This location will certainly not come to be any time soon, and it’s disingenuous to propose it.
- JP-4 lies on the Southwest Corridor but is, for whatever reason, halfway in between the Green Street and Forest Hills Orange Line stations. Perhaps it would be a good location in the future, but the first priority should be locating bikes at the stations themselves. Furthermore, there are no locations anywhere near Centre Street through the heart of Jamaica Plain, and this location is about as far from Centre Street as any location along the Southwest Corridor.
- JP-5 is at Upham’s Corner in Roxbury and is a decent location for a station, although it is somewhat far from other locations.
- JP-6 is a good location in Egleston Square, but again suffers from the fact that there are no nearby stations, especially along the Orange Line. Egleston was once an elevated station, and Hubway could be a good resource for getting to and from the current Orange Line stations, but if the Orange Line is eschewed, it loses some usefulness.
- JP-7 is similar to the location above, although at least closer to the current Hubway station at Roxbury Crossing.