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Can Hubway Come to Newton?

2013 June 19
by Chuck Tanowitz
Wouldn't this look great in Newton?

Wouldn’t this look great in Newton?

Probably the worst thing that can happen to a meeting on biking in Newton is a violent thunderstorm that includes lightning streak skies and a massive downpour.

That’s what happened Monday just as the Newton Bicycle Advisory Committee started its annual update. So a lot of us arrived wet.

Most of the updates weren’t all that shocking. The city has a great comprehensive plan to bring bike lines to all parts of the city. You’ll see more signs and lanes in the coming weeks and months. More people are biking and the police have done a great job in educating students on bike safety. Also, as noted earlier on Village 14, the city won an award for being well on way down the path for bike friendliness.

Most interesting to me is the fact that the committee is working to bring Hubway to Newton! I love the idea, as I use the bikes around Boston, but I’m wondering how they’d work in a bedroom community like Newton. In my ideal world everyone is within a 5 minute walk of a Hubway bike, but maybe I’m just being too ambitious. A bike only works if you can get one where you are and can drop it off where you’re going. So, for example, having one near the T doesn’t make sense if it can’t get you from the T to your house. A good place to start would be the map of bike parking in the city.

It caused me to think that elementary schools would make sense as Hubway locations. I see a lot of parents driving their kids to school on the way to work, but I where do they go after? If it’s to the train or bus station (I’ve seen many get on the bus in Newton Corner) would it make the most sense to pick up a bike at a school, ride it to the bus and then leave it? Would that encourage more kids to walk to school with their parents rather than jumping in a car?

I have no idea, just a thought. I know a lot of parents who drive their children less than half a mile to school and then return home, so it’s as much a habit as it is a convenience.

As for bike sharing itself, Mia Birk, the former bike coordinator of Portland who currently runs the company in charge of most bike sharing programs in the US delivered a great TedX speech about bike sharing. She pointed out that most people do their errands in within two miles, the perfect distance for a bike. Think about what’s within two miles of your house, you may be surprised.




15 Responses Post a comment
  1. Doug Haslam permalink
    June 19, 2013 09:29 AM

    I’m wondering how they would implement that as well. Village Centers/T stops make sense, but I agree that near schools is worth a discussion. I’m not optimistic that too many parents that drive their kids a half mile to school, then idle the engines for 30 minutes in the afternoon waiting for the final bell, will switch, but if some will it would be worth it.

    Living near the river, I can see a wider “bike into the city” opportunity, especially on weekends. I have used Hubway within Boston on occasion, and not worrying about keeping a bike is pretty freeing.

    Now, about helmets.. but I understand there are people working on a solution- actually that’s closer to fruition than i realized as I started typing:

  2. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    June 19, 2013 10:27 AM

    My eldest lives in Central Square in Cambridge, two blocks from the Hubway station. There is absolutely the market demand and the density required, and also the added convenience of not having to park a car on the streets in a city where there are more cars than space. Newton isn’t Cambridge. So I wonder whether there would be enough business to make Hubway economically feasible. In and around the colleges it might make sense, since many students do not have cars or space to park them and would probably use a bicycle to get to places they cannot easily or conveniently reach by public transit. But I remain skeptical even about Hubway stations in our village centers, since the housing density does not seem to me sufficient to support them.


  3. Jerry Reilly permalink
    June 19, 2013 10:36 AM

    For Newton residents running errands I can’t see there being much of a demand. Driving/parking in Newton is generally easy and if you’d consider doing the errands on a bike, its faster, easier, and cheaper to have your own bike.

    If you’re a daily inbound T commuter and would consider using a bike for the house-to-T part of the journey, once again you’d most likely have your own bike.

    If there’s going to be a demand, I think it would mostly be T riders from elsewhere, dealing with the last mile – from a T stop to their final destination in Newton. Is that enough demand to make it economically workable? I don’t know.

  4. Chuck Tanowitz permalink
    June 19, 2013 12:06 PM

    I’d also consider Hubway as part of a drive/ bike scenario. If you can have a lot, like one of the empty lots along the river, where you can leave your car and then bike into the more congested zones of Cambridge and Boston, that would make sense.

    As for running errands, I think a lot of people just don’t have the right equipment for errands, so the “cheaper to own your bike” argument starts to falter. Yes, it’s great to have a road bike to take ou ton weekends, but that doesn’t help you get the groceries home. Now you’re asking people to have 2 or 3 bikes for different purposes. Hubway fixes that for some things. I’m able to get produce for a family of 5 onto my bike.

    Of course, it’s much more difficult when you want to buy things in bulk or larger items like cereal boxes, but this is also a way we’ve chosen to live. We can change that if we want.

  5. dulles permalink
    June 19, 2013 12:09 PM

    I think people’s day-to-day commute patterns are too lopsided, and the distances between major destinations too great, for Hubway to work in Newton. It would be nice, but I can’t see the numbers working out at all.

  6. Nathan Phillips permalink
    June 19, 2013 08:31 PM

    I’ll bet many people have bikes that aren’t quite in working order (low tire pressure, rubbing brakes), and that is a big enough barrier that it keeps them off the streets. Hubway could enable many people to re-experience the fun and practicality of biking.

  7. David Kalis permalink
    June 20, 2013 09:26 AM

    @Jerry – I for one don’t think parking in Newton is easy. I’d easily switch if I knew there were resources like a Hubway and better streets (smoother, with bike lanes) to utilize.

    In terms of density, I agree, probably only around the village centers where we have T or rail service could it be economically feasible. Around schools could work. Many parents are looking to get a workout in before or after dropoff. with bikes, it’s a built-in solution.

    Change of behaviour doesn’t happen overnight. I think the fact that ideas like this are being discussed and you see more bike lanes is great. Eventually, with persistence, I believe biking will take off in Newton.

  8. Jerry Reilly permalink
    June 20, 2013 10:08 AM


    Eventually, with persistence, I believe biking will take off in Newton.

    Me too.

  9. fignewtonville permalink
    June 20, 2013 10:36 AM

    This is a great idea. And the schools are an even better idea. I’d certainly do exactly that, walk my kid to school than hop on a Hubway.

    As for the helmets, that is pretty easy. I keep one in my office downtown, one in the trunk of my car, and one at home. The helmets are cheap and easy to deal with.

    I think the combination of bus lines, commuter rail and T in Newton make this a no brainer. I’d use it all the time.

    Yes you lose a parking space or two in each village, but I’d bet that is more than made up for by folks like me who would have driven and parked.

  10. fignewtonville permalink
    June 20, 2013 10:37 AM

    Also, having them at the high schools would also be a great idea. I could see those being very popular after school.

  11. Chuck Tanowitz permalink
    June 21, 2013 06:36 AM

    The one problem with the bikes at the high schools is that the terms of service for Hubway require you to be 18+ in order to get a key. I think there may be a provision for parents to allow those underaged to use them, but I’m not sure. So for most high school students it wouldn’t work.

    However, this may be an opportunity for an entrepreneurial high schooler to come up with a NNHS or NSHS bike share system that enables students to more freely move around the city and take advantage of the open-campus.

  12. nathan phillips permalink
    June 21, 2013 07:52 AM

    A bike share could support transit oriented development at Riverside with stations at the Auburndale commuter rail station and Riverside, serving office workers commuting to/from riverside from/to communities along the Framingham-Worcester line.
    Instead, the focus has been how can we accomodate everyone driving there.

  13. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    June 21, 2013 10:11 AM

    @nathan, the T has total control over any garage that will be built at Riverside and does not need permission from the City of Newton to build it. That said, at working sessions on the Riverside project, the T and the developer have agreed that there will be a bike corral for those who wish to get to the T on their bicycles. There has been discussion around a Zipcar or other kind of short term car rental, so I think it makes a lot of sense to talk about the possibility of a Hubway station at Riverside, too. Anything to reduce car traffic would be a welcome addition. As I mentioned though it is up to the T, although I would be happy to lobby for it if there is public support for the idea (and maybe even if there isn’t).

    Thanks for suggesting it.

  14. andreae permalink
    June 21, 2013 10:50 AM


    Hubway at Riverside is currently in the Bicycle Advisory Committee sights–along with a partner station at Lasalle, which could then support a merchant-sponsored station at Auburndale and/or Lower Falls….

    Know anyone in Wellesley who might be a good liaison for talking about expansion west?


  15. Ted Hess-Mahan permalink
    June 21, 2013 11:07 AM

    @Andreae: The assistant DPW director goes to my church and I know some of the other people in government. Contact me at I would like to work with our planning department and Wellesley’s planning department to see if this is feasible.

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