Before Tuesday morning, it took more than 40 minutes to travel without a car from the Roxbury YMCA near Warren Street to Boston City Hall Plaza. Google Maps prescribes a route for residents, some of whom are among the city’s most underserved, that involves about a half-mile walk, a 14-stop bus ride, and 17 minutes on the MBTA Orange Line.
After Tuesday, when Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh unveiled one of 20 new Hubway bike-sharing stations in Roxbury, Dorchester, and East Boston, that same downtown trip could take only 25 minutes.
For such a seemingly simple solution, what took Hubway so long?
“It’s overdue,” said Michelle Cook, a lifelong Roxbury resident who has started a nonprofit, Roxbury Rides, to encouraging biking in historically marginalized communities. “This should’ve happened years ago, but hopefully this is the start of something much, much bigger.”
Walsh announced the 10 new stations in Roxbury and North Dorchester in an event at the Roxbury YMCA. At the conclusion of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Walsh officially opened the YMCA Hubway station by docking a bike designed by Artists for Humanity, a local nonprofit. The bike, which featured a brightly colored frame that depicted famous Roxbury social justice activists like Melnea Cass, Elma Lewis, and Ruth Batson, will stay in public use.
“These bikes here in Roxbury represent our commitment for our city to be healthy, be an active city, and have safe bike riding in every neighborhood,” Walsh told the crowd. “[To] the people from the community: we heard your voices.”
Boston’s Hubway system, which is jointly owned by the municipalities of Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, began in 2011 with about 60 stations throughout the region. Ten more new stations will soon open in East Boston.
Since its launch, stations have multiplied in areas surrounding downtown Boston, Somerville, Cambridge — and, even before this week, quickly changing parts of Roxbury like Dudley Square. In some of the city’s more marginalized areas, including public transportation islands like Mattapan, and further neighborhoods like Roslindale and West Roxbury, Hubway is still missing.
Like other public transit, riders can rent a bike for a short amount of time, or purchase 24-hour, 72-hour, or monthly passes. Transportation officials also said 640 Hubway riders have signed up for a low-income payment option, which allows for qualifying residents to have unlimited trips for as low as $5 a year.
In Walsh’s remarks, he said the Hubway system has nearly doubled its stations since 2011, and that bike sharing is “an integral part of Boston’s transportation landscape,” with more than 4 million trips taken to date.
“The city launched Hubway five years ago as one of the first bike-sharing programs in the country,” he said. “Now you look around, they’re in every big city and town across America.”
Gina Fiandaca, the city’s Transportation Department commissioner, said Hubway takes “people to jobs, schools, places to have fun, and to communities.” But even after the upcoming expansion, Bostonians in Mattapan, Roslindale, and West Roxbury will remain without bike-sharing amenities in their neighborhoods, according to the Hubway map, which officials confirmed Tuesday.
“We are committed to reaching the full potential of bike share in Boston,” Fiandaca said. “These 10 new stations that we’re celebrating today bring us closer to Ashmont and Mattapan, where we hear a strong desire for transportation options.”
Becca Wolfson, a Somerville resident and the executive director of Boston Cyclists Union, said planning to expand the city’s bike-share program must also consider another factor: infrastructure. Many corners in underserved communities would welcome new bike-sharing docks, but it is unclear whether those streets are prepared for an influx of riders, Wolfson said.
She cited a 2013 study from People for Bikes, a foundation dedicated to safe and equitable riding. According to the study, bike sharing and protected bike lanes must be implemented in tandem to promote safe and sustainable riding. Wolfson said many roads in Roxbury do not have protected bike lanes, so riders and cars must share the notoriously compact Boston streets.
“When you build out the system, people will use it,” Wolfson said. “Hubway is a big part of our safety in numbers as bikers.”
The newly expanded Hubway projects were partially funded by the Barr Foundation, one of New England’s largest private foundations with assets totaling more than $1.5 billion.
Mary Skelton Roberts, a senior program officer who focuses on transportation and land use issues for the foundation, said she hopes Hubway can become a primary mode of transportation for more city residents, as biking is in some European cities.
If nothing else, Skelton Roberts said she hopes the program can “fill in the gaps” where the city’s current transportation system falls short and help reduce the environmentally damaging by-products of cars.
“Some of the first stations were put in places where we knew a lot of people were there: they were put in the Back Bay, and put in South Station, but we always had this dream that if Hubway was to be successful, it needed to be with people in neighborhoods,” Skelton Roberts said. “We’re delighted to help support Roxbury and North Dorchester. We hope it’s just the beginning.”
Also on hand at the event: Boston City Councilors Ayanna Pressley, Annissa Essaibi George, and Tito Jackson; plus members of the city’s civic engagement department and the mayor’s community liaisons.
The politicians, like Walsh, arrived and departed by car.Astead W. Herndon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.
Clarification: Based on new information from transportation officials, this story has been updated to reflect additional payment options for low-income Hubway riders.