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“Skeptics predicted disaster.”

November 29, 2011

Just as Hubway’s first season coming to an end, Boston has announced plans to expand the bike sharing system to Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville with about 30 stations and 300 bikes in the spring.  (Unlike other bike share systems, including the one planned for New York, Boston’s shuts down for the winter.)

Hubway has been a phenomenal success.  As the Globe reports, “in its first 2 1/2 months, Hubway recorded 100,000 station-to-station rides, significantly eclipsing the pace of similar systems in Minneapolis (where Nice Ride needed six months to reach that mark) and Denver (where B-cycle needed 7 1/2 months).”  I strongly believe we’ll see similar levels of pent up enthusiasm breaching the banks of the bikelash when New York’s system makes its 2012 debut.  Hyperbole-laden “news” stories like this one will be disproved quicker than you can unlock a bike from a docking station.

More lessons from Boston:

When [Mayor] Menino announced his goal of bringing to Boston something akin to Paris’s Velib, skeptics predicted disaster: tourists and inexperienced cyclists weaving down narrow and unpredictable streets amid inhospitable traffic – to say nothing about theft and vandalism.

But Hubway has experienced no serious crashes and only two reported accidents, neither of which required ambulances. Bikes and stations have proved resistant to theft and destruction, and graffiti is rare, Freedman said.

The crash rate for Hubway riders is well below the average for other cyclists, which may be a reflection of its safety features – sturdy bikes with automated lights – or the behavior of riders. However, less than half of Hubway users appear to wear helmets, compared with nearly three-quarters of those on other bikes, according to a recent census at 20 locations.

Hubway has been so successful, it even won over the Boston Globe’s Tom Keane who originally thought bike sharing “seemed one of those off-the-wall, goofy larks you’d find in cities like Portland, Ore., or San Francisco.”  He now admits that it’s “one of Menino’s best ideas ever.”

Commuters coming into North and South Stations now routinely hop on bikes to get to their offices. Tourists use it as a way to better see the sights without the wear of walking. And I personally have found that it changes things: I now readily go places I didn’t. Cars are expensive to park; subways take too long. The bike is quick and easy.

Don’t expect a similar turnaround from Andrea Peyser or Tom Cuozzo, but many of the questions posed by New York’s most prominent bike critics are easily answerable, if only they’re willing to take a field trip to Boston.

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