To the list of annual signs that winter is ending in New England - crocuses, robins, and the Red Sox buzz from Fort Myers - add a new one: Hubway’s return.
Officially, the bicycle-sharing docks are not supposed to begin reappearing until Thursday and won’t be stocked with bikes until March 15. But some stations on private property have already begun cropping up, in anticipation of Hubway’s first full season.
In an abbreviated inaugural run, Boston’s European-style system of biking-as-public-transit recorded 142,155 station-to-station trips, from its debut July 28 to its November dismantling for winter (well, the threat of winter, at least).
About 40 stations will be activated for the mid-March “soft launch,’’ while all 61 in Boston - and some 600 bikes - should be up be April 1, said Nicole Freedman, who oversees Hubway as director of Boston Bikes, Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s initiative to making biking safer and more popular.
Expansion to Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline with another 30 stations and 300 bikes is expected in June or July, Freedman and other officials said.
Freedman will discuss Hubway at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday in the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Lecture Hall in the fourth annual “State of the Hub’’ address. She will also highlight other Boston Bikes accomplishments, including striping the city’s 50th mile of on-street bike lanes, installing its 1,200th multispace municipal bike rack, and distributing the 1,000th bike through Roll it Forward, an initiative to give rebuilt bikes to low-income residents.
All of this has come since 2007, when Menino hired Freedman, an urban planner and former Olympian, to shake Boston’s reputation as a bad city for biking, with cramped roads, aggressive drivers, and minimal bicycle accommodations.
That change hasn’t come without growing pains, including some charged confrontations between motorists and bicyclists, and some discomfort among drivers over losing 70 spots on Massachusetts Avenue to make way for a bike lane. But it is viewed at the government and advocacy level as a major success - more people adopting a greener, healthier form of transportation, and more sharing of pavement long dominated by drivers but paid for by all taxpayers.
It’s a change that harks back to the early days of asphalt - the preautomobile Good Roads Movement of the 19th century was driven, er, pedaled by bicyclists - and shows no signs of abating. The Menino administration envisions Boston a decade from now with 420 miles of on-street bike lanes, off-street paths, and other bikeways.
The Hubway of the future would have 3,000 bikes and 300 stations in Greater Boston. That planned expansion will start this summer with 20 stations in Cambridge, eight in Somerville, and two in Brookline.
Though planners tried to have those in place sooner, they were delayed partly by the complexity of arranging a system that will exist as one seamless, go-anywhere Hubway network - but which requires separate contracts between each city and Hubway’s private operator, Alta Bicycle Share Co., plus a regional agreement.
Each community buys and owns the bikes and stations within its borders and raises start-up money in different ways. They shared a $3 million federal transit grant, but some are also using local taxes while others are relying on fund-raising and grants.
“Imagine creating the MBTA without a centralized authority, and each municipality had to buy its own trains and hire its own drivers and then they had to coordinate and act as one system,’’ said Eric Bourassa, transportation manager for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the agency that helped plan Hubway and knit the communities together.
But each is eager to get going, with the final contracts expected to be signed in the coming days, followed by 16 weeks to build and deliver the new stations and bikes. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm in Brookline for Hubway, that’s for sure,’’ said Jeff Levine, that town’s director of planning and community development.
Hayes Morrison, Somerville’s director of transportation and infrastructure, said her city is equally excited.
“Somerville really believes that what was seen last season in Boston was transformative, and we hope for the same amount of success,’’ she said. “Not hope. We anticipate the same amount of success.’’
While the equipment hibernated, the Hubway team kept busy over the winter, trying to drum up annual memberships ($85, with periodic $60 promotions) and keep Hubway’s 6,000 combined Facebook and Twitter followers engaged.
Hubway tallied the top 10 most active male and female riders, who combined took 3,759 trips. If you stretched out that group’s station-to-station mileage (3,871), you could travel from Boston to San Francisco, then bank north and nearly reach Canada. The top three men and women received ceremonial visits and were presented with special-edition “Gold Club’’ T-shirts that made them the envy of many on Facebook.
The men were paced by Harvard Business School student Ahmed Makani, whose cost-benefit analysis - Hubway members can take unlimited free trips of 30 minutes or less, with an escalating price for longer excursions - prompted him to ride 340 times.
The women were led by Wei Sum Li’s 179 trips, mostly between her waterfront apartment and her job as a case manager at Boston Health Care for the Homeless, near Boston Medical Center.
A job change just as Hubway arrived cost Li an employer-funded CharlieCard, and she quickly realized the annual Hubway membership cost about the same as a monthly T pass.
The only catch: Li, 24, hadn’t been on a bike since childhood and that was on the quiet streets of Westford.
“The first couple of times I rode it, I really was afraid for my life,’’ said Li, among the minority of Hubway users always wearing a helmet.
But she found a comfortable route and gained confidence, embracing Hubway. “It’s perfect for our city, because it’s pretty small and it’s very bikeable.’’
Li’s commute took less than 20 minutes. Back on the T this winter, her commute can take as long as 45 minutes, depending on the vagaries of subway and bus arrival.
Caroline Fridmar, second among women, waited a few weeks before trying Hubway but became an ambassador. In addition to taking 166 trips herself, she extolled Hubway’s virtues as a Ritz-Carlton concierge.
Starting work too early to catch the T, Fridmar cut her 20-minute walking commute from the North End to six minutes by biking.
Fridmar rode Hubway to pick up a CD for a Ritz guest - faster and cheaper than a rush-hour taxi - and, in a favorite outing, traversed the waterfront with her husband and parents for dinner at Legal Harborside.
“I’d been telling my mom about it all summer,’’ said Fridmar, 26, a Buffalo native. “They were so wowed by it. They were wishing Buffalo would get something like that. It really is just completely the best mode of transportation.’’
Commuter rail operator improves performance
Quietly, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. is having a good year. The MBTA contractor came under heavy fire last winter for a slew of breakdowns that left thousands repeatedly stranded on the coldest and snowiest days.
A few months later, a Globe investigation showed MBCR - which is paid more than $250 million a year to run the MBTA commuter rail service - had benefited from contract amendments that watered down penalties for delayed trains.
Now, MBCR is poised to record its best month since April 2006. Through midday Friday, 95 percent of trains in February reached their destination within five minutes of the schedule - that’s the real percentage experienced by commuters, not the adjusted percentage, a figure that takes into account weather, medical emergencies, and other problems MBCR is not liable for under the contract.
The mild weather has played a part, but the performance is due also to greater investment by the T and MBCR and better deployment of resources, led by new General Manager Hugh Kiley, who was baptized by fire after being hired just before last winter.
The MBTA invested part of its strained capital budget in a new truck shop, to speed repairs of the components that keep trains moving. Coupled with MBCR’s investment in more staff, the better-maintained fleet has allowed Kiley & Co. to deploy the system’s few spare trains to the end of lines.
That way, failures in the morning do not create reverberating delays down the schedule.
“The whole focus here is doing the right thing at the right time with the right people and the right equipment, to take care of our service and improve performance for the ridership,’’ said Kiley, a nuts-and-bolts railroader who started as a brakeman in 1970 and has held an array of freight and passenger rail posts.
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.