Personal data collection: Hubway

Back in 2011, as part of a convoluted New Year’s resolution, I started tracking my personal travel daily. Each day, I record how many miles I travel, by what mode, and whether I am traveling for transportation or exercise/pleasure. Why did I start collecting these data? Because I figured that there was the chance that some day it would be useful.

And that day is … today!

I realized recently that I had a pretty good comparative data set between the April to July portion of 2012 and 2013. Not too much in my life changed in that time frame. Most days I woke up, went to work, came home and went for a run. Probably the biggest difference, transportation-wise, was that in 2012 there were no Hubway stations in Cambridge, and in 2013 there were. In addition, since Hubway keeps track of every trip, I can pretty easily see how many trips I take, and how many days I use each mode.

To the spreadsheets!

The question I want to test is, essentially, does the presence of bike sharing cause me to walk and bike more frequently, less frequently or about the same? Also, do I travel more miles, fewer or about the same? A few notes on the data. First, I am using April 6 (my first Hubway ride in 2012) to July 9 (in 2012 I had a bike accident on the 10th and my travel habits changed; Hubway launched in Cambridge at the end of the month, anyway). Second, I collect these data in 0.5 mile increments, and I don’t log each and every trip (maybe next year) but it’s a pretty good snapshot.

The results? With Hubway available, I ride somewhat more mileage, but bicycle significantly more often. In addition, my transit use has declined (but I generally use transit at peak times, so it takes strain off the system) and I walk about the same amount.

Here are the data in a bit more detail for the 95 days between April 6 and July 9, inclusive:

Foot travel. In 2012 I walked 84 days in the period a total of 190.5 miles. In 2013, the numbers 83/180. (Note that I do not tally very short distances in these data.)

Bicycle travel. In 2012, I biked 66 and, believe it or not, in 2013 I actually biked fewer days, only 64. As for the distance traveled, I biked 466.5 miles in 2012, and 544.5 miles in 2013. So despite riding slightly fewer, I biked nearly 20% more distance. This can be partially explained by my participation in 30 Days of Biking in 2012, when I took many short trips in April.

In addition, in 2013 I began keeping track of my non bike-share cycling trips. I only rode my own bike 14 days during the period, tallying 44 trips on those days. But there were many days where I rode my own bike and a Hubway; I took 29 Hubway trips on days I rode my own bike; on 8 of the days I rode my own bike, I rode a Hubway as well.

Bike share trips. In 2012 I rode Hubway on 39 days, totaling 71 rides, an average of 1.8 Hubway rides per day riding Hubway. In 2013, I rode Hubway on 58 days, but tallied 185 rides, an average of 3.2! So having Hubway nearby means that I ride it more days, and more often on the days I ride.

Transit. In 2012, I took transit almost as frequently as bicycling, 61 days. I frequently rode the Red Line to Charles Circle and rode Hubway from there to my office. In 2013, my transit use dropped by nearly half, to just 31 days, as I could make the commute by Hubway the whole way without having to worry about evening showers or carrying a lock.

We might look for the mode shift here. My walking mode shift has not changed dramatically. My bicycling mode shift hasn’t appreciably increased, although the number of total rides likely has. My transit mode shift has decreased, as I shift shorter transit rides to Hubway.

Now, if they ever put a station near my house, I’ll get to see how those data would stack up. My hypothesis: I’d never walk anywhere, ever.

Hubway Expansion Station Locations Not Always Optimally Located

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)
While these are certainly not the only factors necessary for a successful bike sharing system, they are quite important. The proposed locations, in many cases, fail one or more of these tests. In addition, logical, and in some cases obvious, locations were overlooked. It certainly seems that they were chosen not to become part of the existing network, but instead to cover the map. This may be an unfortunate part of the planning process, but in this case it seems to just gum up the works.
Here is some short commentary on the locations:
Jamaica Plain / Roxbury is a fertile location to grow Hubway. There is significant existing bicycle infrastructure, good transit and density, and a burgeoning bicycle culture. A logical system would follow existing transit corridors—Centre Street, the Southwest Corridor (transit and bike path) and Washington Street—in JP, and similar corridors in Roxbury. (I will admit that I know less about the transportation infrastructure in Roxbury than in JP.) Instead, locations are put in some rather inconceivable locations:
  • 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.
South Boston is another good location for bike sharing. It is quite dense and located in close proximity to the Downtown area, but lacks rapid transit except on the western fringe. One issue is that it is surrounded by three sides by water, so connectivity to the rest of the system is a bit of an issue. And while the three stations proposed do not provide coverage for the whole of the neighborhood, they do not fall as far short as some of the locations in Jamaica Plain. It helps that there are existing Hubway stations at Red and Silver Line rapid transit stations on the north and west sides of South Boston, so these stations can act as feeders to there, and to downtown Boston as well. I don’t know Southie that well, but this chart (from Southie Bikes) is a great representation of why Hubway should do quite well there.
Charlestown‘s main issue is that the proposed stations do not complement the existing stations in Charlestown that well—let alone the rest of the system. (NB: there is a new station at the new Spaulding Hospital not shown on this map.) C-2 is a logical spot at the Charlestown Community Center. But C-1 is located between two existing stations. And there are no proposed locations at either the Community College or Sullivan Square Orange Line stations, or logical connections to the Hubway locations in Cambridge or Somerville. While C-3 is labeled as “Sullivan Square,” it is quite a distance from the actual Sullivan Square MBTA station. As the roads in Sullivan are redesigned and as the area is (hopefully) developed in to something more than an array of highways and parking lots, the station may be differently located. But for now, it should be located at the MBTA station, where it can provide connectivity not only to the new and existing Charlestown stations, but to Somerville as well.
It is good to see the City partnering with CoUrbanize to invite public comment for these location, and the comments—some of them my own—have certainly hit on where these stations should go. Hopefully the Hubway expansion steers clear of some of these less-than-desirable spots. Luckily, the stations are portable and easily moved, so, unlike most infrastructure, the system can be rejiggered if it is not optimally sited at first. But it would be even better to have picked better locations from the outset.

Hubway Data Challenge (and updated personal charts)

Back in September, I grabbed my Hubway use, cajoled it in to some charts, and posted them here for the world to see. Remember how cool those charts were, with 130ish data points?

This is what happens when you get more than 130 data points!

Well, in October, Hubway released the data from all rides taken on the system, which added another (approximately) 550 thousand data points, so I decided to rerun these data added together, for a grand total of about 550,130 data points.

(Totally off subject, but this reminds me of the old joke about significant digits the docent at the Museum of Natural History. A student asks how old the dinosaur skeleton is. And he replies “it is 68,000,038 years old.” The student asks how they know such an exact number and he says “when I started working here, they told me it was 68 million years old. And that was 38 years ago!”)

Ha ha ha. Anyway, I spent the next month dealing with this slightly larger data set, charting and mapping the data, cursing Excel (especially the Mac OS version which is so poorly designed that it will only run one one core of my four-core processor at a time, in other words, I would like my money back, Mr. Gates) and churned out an entry in the Hubway Data Challenge contest. The winner gets a free helmet, Hubway membership and t-shirt, which is slightly better than a sharp poke in the eye! You can find my entry at the above link, or go directly to it here. It has CSS! And some moderately interactive features!

Then I went and looked through all the other entries. From people who know how to make websites that work, and from people who know how to write code to do cool things. And then, I won anyway! Well, I was one of several winners. But still.

Anyway, here is my latest Hubway usage report, you can clicky to make it bigger. OH AND! If you want this treatment for your Hubway trips (and the map, too; the map is pretty cool) let me know and I will make it for you. Payment in beer is readily accepted.

Personal Hubway Report

Back in May, a month in to my Hubway membership, I analyzed bike share trip length data, and ran a quick “analysis” of my own personal trips. Since then, I’ve logged more than 100 more bike sharing trips, and put together a bit more robust of an analysis to see my trip data. Since starting with Hubway:

  • 123 trips
  • 7:29 average trip length
  • 0.96 average trip straight-line distance
  • 15:20 hours on Hubway
  • 117 miles on Hubway (straight-line distance)
  • 7.63 mph average speed (straight-line)
  • 29 unique stations used (24 unique starts, 25 unique ends)
  • 90 of 123 trips started or ended at the most frequently used station (44/46)
  • 8:1 ration of starts to ends at Charles Circle (24/3), which is much easier to bike from than to bike to.

I can also break these numbers in to charts. And I love charts! (N.B.: for all charts, the number of trips is on the vertical axis.)

Hey, that’s pretty cool! There’s some interesting data here. First—July. I think that a combination of being away most weekends and warm temperatures lowered my trip count. More importantly, Hubway didn’t launch in Cambridge (where I live) until August, so all my trips were work-based. And I rode my (own) bike to work most of July. Oh, and there was the minor issue of a bicycle accident which knocked me out of the saddle for most of the month.

As for the timing of my trips, this is a tri-modal distribution, which matches rather well with overall bike share use patterns for weekdays. There’s a peak in the morning, when I am biking to work, and another in the evening, when I’m biking home. (And since I’m supposed to be in the office by 8, I’m convinced that Hubway’s clock is off by a few minutes!) The midday bump is when I take a bike for errands, which I do relatively often at lunch. It’s nice to have a dock at my building.

And the trip lengths? These are tri-modal, too. The peak of 4-5 minute trips correlates well with my frequent multi-modal commute walking to Central Square, taking the Red Line to Charles, and biking to my office, much faster than another stop and a walk or transfer would take me. (The reverse, thanks to one-way streets, is far less speedy; I’ve started 24 trips at Charles Station and only ended 3 there; it’s particularly hard to get there by bike.) The 7-8 peak is mostly lunch trips, and the 13-17 is from when I started commuting by Hubway in August.

Trip distance (straight line) mostly parallels trip length, and speed is a pretty nice bell curve. Since this is based on straight-line distances, there is some more variation than would be expected, because more roundabout trips wind up with slower “speeds” than straight shots. (My highest speed was when I biked straight down Commonwealth Avenue and made a bunch of lights.) This is probably comparable to average straight-line traffic speeds in Boston at rush hour.

Will I keep these data updated? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear relieve himself in the woods? Have I been tracking every mile I’ve traveled by mode for the last year and a half daily?

To get these data, I copied (in batches of 20) and pasted the trip data from my Hubway account (from their website) in to Excel; luckily it pasted very easily. Trip lengths were calculated from latitude and longitude data grabbed from Hubway Tracker. If you copy your personal trip data in to Excel and email it to me (ari.ofsevit on the Gmails) I’d be glad to get the data to you and send you charts of your own!

Hubway Helmet Storage

I’ve been riding Hubway a lot this summer and enjoyed it’s convenience immensely (I’m at 54 trips and counting since April).

One of the issues with bike sharing, however, is helmet use. The point of bike sharing is that you can pick up and drop off a bicycle like you would get on a bus or hail a cab. To a lot of users, having to carry around a helmet is antithetical to these goals. Attempts to solve this abound: Boston sells subsidized helmets across the city (I know; I bought one in a pinch and it currently serves as my “office helmet” which I’ve offered to share with coworkers). DC does too (but they cost a bit more). Melbourne, which has mandatory helmet use, has seen its system struggle, and sells helmets for just $5, which you can return for a $3 rebate. Minneapolis is straight giving away 10,000 bright green branded helmets. Vancouver considered shipping Montreal’s mothballed Bixi system from winter storage out for the Olympics but was stymied by their province’s helmet law. The city still doesn’t have a bike sharing system.

And there’s the cool MIT helmet vending machine. Really cool. And, uh, not in production yet.

Still, all of these ideas are for origin helmet dispensing? What about those of us who have a helmet already?

Riding a clunky, heavy, stable bike for a mile in the city is not prime helmet use territory, and many casual users don’t use a helmet. For those of us who do (perhaps because of prior experience), Hubway becomes an exercise in always having a helmet handy. More than once I’ve been ready to get off the Red Line at Charles (Side note: this station earns a 4.5 star rating on Yelp.) for the four minute jaunt down Charles Street only to realize I’d left my helmet at home and jumped back on the train.

But I’ve gotten better. I almost always have a helmet with me when I want to start a trip. Helmet availability is less and less of an issue. The problem is: what do I do with my helmet when I get to my destination?

I could strap it to my belt or put it in a bag. In my line of work and the circles I travel, wandering around with a helmet is, if not a badge of honor, at least somewhat acceptable. Luckily, on Hubway, it usually stays relatively non-sweaty. But in a crowded bar, having a helmet clipped to your belt looks really dorky, and can get in the way. It’s awkward to say “excuse me” and have a helmet rub up against someone’s thigh. (But maybe it’s a good way to break the ice with the cute cyclist across the room. I digress.) Or, I ride Hubway to the train station, and then wind up taking the train, walking to a meeting, going to the meeting, walking back to the train and riding back to the city, all the while toting my helmet. It doesn’t keep me from riding Hubway, but it’s a nuisance.

So what I think bike sharing needs is helmet storage at racks. More than once I’ve considered not taking Hubway simply because I didn’t want to have to keep track of my helmet while at my destination. (I’ve never actually found an alternative, because Hubway is really damn convenient.) Here’s are a couple scenarios to consider:

  • I leave my office after work and bike a mile across town to meet a friend at a bar. I store my helmet at the bike rack, and when I come back, I grab it and bike to the T, which I take home. With my helmet.
  • I Hubway over to North Station in the morning to take a train to a meeting. I store my helmet at the station. Back a few hours later, I fetch my helmet from the helmet storage, pop it on my noggin, and ride back to the office.
So what I think Hubway needs is helmet racks. Generally, people don’t steal helmets. If you lock your bike and hang the helmet off the handlebars, it will be there when you get back. The front wheel might be gone, but not the helmet. No one steals helmets to resell because no one buys used helmets (because you have no way to know if it’s been in a crash, and it’s all sweaty, too). No one steals helmets to use them because of the aforementioned safety issue and, well, because the population that is in to wearing helmets is generally not that in to petty larceny. I’ve left a helmet unlocked myriad times and it’s always been there later on. And, also, someone else’s sweaty hair. Ew. So no one steals helmets. Except …
Except near a bike share. It’s the only place where helmetless people would think of grabbing a helmet and going. It wouldn’t be their intention to steal it, but to use it and drop it off somewhere else. Which would work great, unless someone else was counting on coming back and finding it there. If you were at a bike share station and saw a helmet just sitting there, would you take it? Quite possibly you would. Even if it quite possibly belonged to someone else. And if there were just helmets clipped to a fence near the rack, they might be seen as a public nuisance and removed and trashed before their users could fetch them. So we need a rack with some sort of security.
The design could take any number of forms. The main hurdle of access can easily be solved by limiting access to people carrying an RFID chip with a unique code, which, very conveniently, is how bike sharing users access the bikes. (Except, of course, for daily users, but they’d be less likely to have their own helmets to store and make up a small portion of the user base. Plus, they could integrate the passcode system in the helmet storage.) It could be a stack of cages with doors which could be accessed by presenting a Hubway key. It could be a set of small U-locks which could be removed, put through a helmet vent (or even strap: cutting a strap to steal a helmet renders the helmet useless) and replaced. It could even be cables which would go through helmet vents or straps. 
Time limits could be enforced: after, say, six hours the user could be charged, or the cage could simply unlock. Rarely am I somewhere for long before I come back to the rack, grab a bike (and my helmet) and go. And it could easily be integrated in to the MIT HelmetHub design. Time to give them a shout, it seems like it would be compatible.
High security would certainly not be needed. No one is going to walk around with garden shears clipping locks and stealing helmets (for the same reason no one grabs helmets off the street; see above). The issue would be keeping the helmets safe from casual, almost accidental thief (“I need a helmet. Hey, look a helmet!”) and providing infrastructure which would say “helmets belong here, don’t mess with ’em.”
I know I’d use this system. I’m not sure how many others would. However, I think the market is there. Whether it’s someone who is already using the system and would wear a helmet if she had somewhere to store it, or someone who is interested in the system but doesn’t use it because they need somewhere to store their helmet. Either way, helmet and system use would rise. Neither of which is a bad thing.
This doesn’t solve the problem. But I think it’s a piece of the puzzle.