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Sharing the Road

Two bike sharing programs expand on Harvard's campus

This photo from March 6, 2012 shows a bike rack similar to the ones that will soon be filled with bicycles from Hubway, a regional bike sharing program that allows one to check out bikes from anywhere between 30 minutes to a day.
This photo from March 6, 2012 shows a bike rack similar to the ones that will soon be filled with bicycles from Hubway, a regional bike sharing program that allows one to check out bikes from anywhere between 30 minutes to a day.
By Kerry M. Flynn, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: March 16, 2012, at 9:03 p.m.

Commuting from Harvard Business School to the Innovation Lab, first-year Business School student Ahmed A. Makani navigates the streets of Allston on a bicycle to cut down commuting time.

But Makani doesn’t own a bike.

Before arriving on campus, Makani purchased a membership to Hubway—a regional bike sharing program—that has since allowed him to check out bikes from stations throughout Boston.

Hubway lets citizens ride bikes without owning bicycles. A user can check out a bike from a station on a local street with the swipe of a credit card for 30 minutes to a full day, then pedal away.

As Harvard and the city of Boston both look toward sustainability, the University has begun contributing to Hubway, a growing local bike sharing program.

As of Thursday, the previously empty bike racks at Soldiers Field, Harvard Business School, and Harvard’s Longwood Medical Area in Boston will be filled with bicycles, courtesy of Hubway.

A student-run bike sharing program called CrimsonBikes, which offers a similar service, is working on its own expansion.

Both programs speak about the same goal—making it easier for Harvard community members to get around on two wheels.

REGIONAL MOVEMENT

Hubway serves Boston and plans to extend to Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville this summer. The company, which is sponsored by New Balance, is operated by Alta Bike Share, which also oversees programs in Melbourne, Australia, and Washington, D.C., and will soon expand to Chicago and New York City.

“One of the things that was compelling was that it was a public bike system that had been used before at the large scale and was a little more advanced than others,” says Nicole Freedman, director of the city of Boston’s bike program.

The effort to bolster biking has been supported in part by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who launched an initiative in the fall of 2007 geared toward promoting sustainability and health and reducing obesity.

“Cycling is at the intersection of all of those. Boston is one of the first cities to have a full bike share program,” Freedman says.

According to Freedman, 15,000 to 20,000 people ride bikes every day in Boston, and Menino’s initiative has directly created more than 200 jobs.

Harvard jumped on the bandwagon as one of the original sponsors of the Hubway system, according to Brogan C. Graham, Hubway’s marketing manager.

Harvard has sponsored nine Hubway stations—five on the Allston and Longwood campuses and four set to open on the Cambridge campus this summer.

The University and Hubway are currently finalizing the locations for the new stations, according to Hubway General Manager Scott Mullen.

Hubway, which began operating in Boston last July, has scheduled a soft launch for this season on Thursday, when 60 percent of the stations open, including those at the Business School and in the athletic area. The entire system will open for the year on April 1.

Since its launch last year, the system has seen more than 3,700 subscribers, 30,000 casual users, and 142,000 rides. It currently offers 600 bikes in Boston. After the planned expansion, that number will jump to 1,000.

Each Hubway station is solar-powered and operates by credit card payment. The registration and pricing model is similar to the system used by Zipcar.

Each station, which is home to 10 bikes, costs $50,000 to build. “They aren’t cheap. It takes a long time and a lot of effort,” Mullen says.

Federal money, state and local grants, and private sponsorship combine to fund the stations, according to Mullen. The University declined to disclose the amount of Harvard’s sponsorship.

As a sponsor, Harvard’s logo will appear on the rear fender of each of the 90 bikes housed by its nine stations.

A bike share network has been in the works in Boston for the past four years. In 2008, the city of Boston created a committee on bike sharing that included representatives of Harvard, according to Freedman.

“Harvard was enthusiastic right from the start and really came through,” Freedman says.

“Bike sharing was on Harvard’s radar screen before our participation in Hubway,” wrote Colin B. Durrant, manager of sustainability communications at Harvard, in an email. Other programs at Harvard include the Law School’s Read & Ride program, which allows students at Harvard Law School to check out four bikes from the library, and CrimsonBikes, a student-run program launched in 2009.

STUDENT MOTION

Charles T. James ’09 purchased his first bicycle when he was a freshman at the College and soon taught himself how to repair bikes. During his time at the College, he repaired bikes for friends, who later gave him their bikes after they graduated.

In 2009, Leverett House Master Howard M. Georgi ’67 granted James space in Leverett House, and James opened LevBikes.

The program began without any external funding. James used bikes that he had owned or that had been donated to him.

“The...model was optimized with the understanding that there was no outside funding. It made us do a lot of things which were pretty creative and innovative,” James says.

As the program expanded, James refurbished bikes to add to his fleet. James now receives abandoned bikes from House building managers, Harvard Real Estate, and the Cambridge Department of Public Works.

In May 2010, LevBikes received a grant from the Office for Sustainability that allowed it to expand. LevBikes and VeriFast cycles—a bike sharing program of the Environmental Action Committee—merged to form CrimsonBikes, which operates campus-wide.

While originally based on an honor system that trusted users to return the bikes they borrowed, the program has now added a security system with cameras in each key cabinet and an online tracking system.

CrimsonBikes operates three stations—the original outpost in Leverett, one in front of Lowell House, and one in the Quad—and plans to create stations in Dunster, Mather, Eliot, and the Yard. The program will also soon absorb the Law School’s bike sharing program.

Currently, CrimsonBikes runs under the umbrella of the Environmental Action Committee, but the group is considering becoming an officially recognized student organization—a request made by the University, according to James.

It may also team up with Harvard Student Agencies, though James worries that a partnership with the business group might be a strange match for his nonprofit program.

“I’m a little apprehensive about it,” James says. “CrimsonBikes isn’t about making money, so that’s the concern.”

TWO PROGRAMS FOR TWO-WHEELERS

James says he is not afraid of Hubway’s expansion on campus because the two organizations have different operational strategies.

Hubway only operates 8 months of the year, suspending services from November to March. CrimsonBikes decided to make bikes free of charge for long-term checkout over the winter.

CrimsonBikes offers a diverse assortment of bikes, including street and mountain bikes, while Hubway has one standard model.

“Our goal is to make biking as accessible to as many people, so it’s not just something that people do here but a lifestyle choice,” James says.

While CrimsonBikes requires a round-trip ride, Hubway riders can return a bike to any station they choose as long as there is available space.

When problems arise for CrimsonBikes users—for example, when two students book the same bike through the CrimsonBikes website or when someone takes the wrong bike—users can call for help.

“It’s more personal. If you have a problem, there are all kinds of numbers you can call,” says Matthew P. O’Leary ’13, who worked as a mechanic for CrimsonBikes over the summer.

According to James, CrimsonBikes had served 1,200 members of the Harvard community before Hubway was launched.

“I think Harvard made the right decision to support Hubway’s move. To be frank though...I’m surprised [the University hasn’t] shown the same kind of support for CrimsonBikes,” James says. “Our program is built to exist without support, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t take advantage of it.”

When Makani moved from San Francisco to Allston, he decided it would be too costly to bring his own bike. He turned to bike sharing and has now been honored as the Hubway member who has taken the most rides.

“It allowed me to experience the city before school started,” Makani says of Hubway.

Durrant said that in addition to promoting sustainable and inexpensive transportation, he hopes the proliferation of bike sharing stations “will help bring connectivity among Harvard campuses.”

The University plans to create new bike lanes connecting the Boston and Cambridge campuses, according to Harvard’s 2011 Town Gown report published by the Planning and Project Management office.

Even as bike sharing becomes more prevalent on campus, some students will always want their own wheels.

Joey G. Wall ’14, who purchased his bike from Quad Bikes, a student-run shop that operates out of the basement of Cabot House, says, “Having my own bike is a lot easier. I use it almost every day.”

—Staff writer Kerry M. Flynn can be reached at kflynn@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

CORRECTION: March 16

An earlier version of this article said that CrimsonBikes operates two stations. In fact, the student-run bike sharing program has three stations on campus.

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On CampusHarvard in the CityStudent GroupsMatherDunsterLeverettEliotLowellHarvard Business SchoolAllstonHarvard SquareThe SquareQuadHarvard YardEnvironment