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America’s Walking City is primed to become America’s Biking City. In an exciting announcement on Tuesday, top Boston officials unveiled plans for a citywide bike-sharing program similar to Paris’s famous Vélib’. The plan eventually calls for 6,000 communal bikes to be stationed at 600 public racks around Boston; anyone with a bike card can swipe in to unlock a bike, ride it as long as he or she chooses, and return it to any rack in the city.
This is nothing short of a phenomenal development. Students and locals alike should be ecstatic to see Boston taking real steps toward an initiative that will both improve our daily lives and have a tangible impact on environmental responsibility.
It is such a worthy ambition, in fact, that Harvard plans to start its own version, VeriFAST Cycles, this year. The Environmental Action Committee is targeting Earth Day, less than two months away, to debut bike-sharing racks in two houses. For long commutes from the Quad or to distant classrooms, we eagerly anticipate bike-sharing at Harvard as well.
A good amount of our euphoria comes from bicycles’ perfect compatibility with a green lifestyle. Boston’s bike-sharing system is expected to replace 315,000 car trips per year, amounting to 750 tons of greenhouse emissions. In addition to making a real difference in pollution levels, however, over 6,000 additional bikes on the road would also change the way Bostonians think about the environment. As car commutes fall out of fashion, so will other energy-wasting activities, similar to the contagion of sustainability on the Harvard campus. To this end, Boston would do well to take an even closer look at its transportation system for further ways to diminish its carbon footprint.
The bike-share should branch out from Boston proper—certainly into Cambridge, but also into the closest suburbs, such as Newton. The farther the program’s reach, the more minds it will change, and the more car trips it will save. It will also do wonders to relieve congestion on Boston’s infamously crowded crosstown arteries and non-square squares.
As students without cars, however, we are also excited about the convenience of both bike-sharing plans. With a faster mode of transportation than walking that doesn’t come with the cost or hassle of the MBTA, our universes are sure to expand. We hope that trips to the Quad, Porter, or Central will become more like second nature, and Boston less like an odyssey. Finally, cycling is an excellent activity not just for the environment, but for our health as well. We are thrilled that something concrete is being done to encourage the hobby.
The only possible hitch in the plan is Boston itself. A small city with manic drivers and harsh winter weather surely would not be kind to bikers. But we see no reason that this mindset cannot change with the environmental one. First, critics overestimate the problem of winter. Montreal, with a much colder and snowier climate than ours, is one of North America’s most bike-friendly cities, and its Vélo Québec was the first bike-sharing program on the continent.
In addition, Boston’s own bike-share would compel the city to be more supportive of two-wheelers. Currently, Boston may not have much of a cycling infrastructure, but this could and should change anyway. To encourage the good habit of biking, Boston should install more bike lanes and leave cyclists their own spaces. In turn, our streets would become safer for bikers, encouraging even more people to join their ranks.
There are few things that carry more intrinsic good than a bike ride. Bike skeptics truly underestimate the simple pleasure of riding down the banks of the Charles on the first warm day of the spring—and the knowledge that you are frolicking entirely carbon-free. The Boston and Harvard bike-shares can make this a reality, sooner rather than later. We don’t just applaud these new initiatives; we give them a standing ovation.
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