Archive for the ‘Sustainable Transportation’ Category

By Luke Hill. Reposted from masscommons.wordpress.com.

Hubway bike station in downtown Boston
credit: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe

This past weekend marked the first anniversary of Boston’s “Hubwaybiking system.  Hubway has exceeded expectations with over 7,000 members who’ve taken over 350,000 trips.  Monthly usage has climbed every month this year (starting in March—New England winters, even mild ones, make for poor biking conditions) and now exceeds 2,000 trips per day.

Hubway is expanding to nearby Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville later this year.  It’s also expanding from downtown outward to more residential Boston neighborhoods like Allston, Charlestown, Dorchester and Roxbury.

Here’s how it works:

The bike rental system is built on separate municipal contracts and a regional agreement among the four communities and the operator, Alta Bicycle Share. Each has assembled its own start-up financing through grants, sponsorships, and tax dollars; a typical station with a full complement of bikes costs $50,000.

Membership fees ($85 for a year, $5 for a day), corporate and nonprofit sponsorship, and advertising offset operating costs, including maintenance and Hubway’s tending of stations to keep them from being too full or too empty for too long.

Members pick up a bike at one Hubway station and return it to another one near their destination.  There are financial incentives to keep the trips short (i.e., under 30 minutes).

The biggest political issue in any city is land because, almost by definition, cities are places where there are lots of people competing for control and use of a small piece of land.  In Boston, that’s meant carving out space to store the Hubway bicycles when they’re not in use (as in the picture above), and making room for them on the city’s streets—primarily by painting bike lane markers (below) on scores of the city’s busiest streets.  Support for bicycling has also been institutionalized for the past five years in the city’s Transportation Department through the “Boston Bikes” office.

credit: City of Boston


Hubway has had, so far at least, a minimal impact on automobile drivers.  The minor inconvenience of staying out of marked bike lanes is probably more than offset by the decrease in the number of cars on downtown streets.  What Hubway has done is to make bicycling a much easier and more attractive option:  no need to buy a bicycle, no need to park and store it, no need to worry about it being stolen.

Dethroning the automobile isn’t always about big, dramatic changes.  It’s also about the steady accumulation of small changes that make alternative modes of transportation more attractive, one commuter/traveler at a time.


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On February 16, 2012, technology news website Xconomy hosted a talk in Cambridge with renowned environmentalist and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) “think-and-do tank” Amory Lovins about the Institute’s Reinventing Fire initiative. Reinventing Fire provides a roadmap for moving the U.S. economy entirely off of coal, oil and nuclear energy by 2050 while at the same time sustaining vigorous economic growth. Unlike other climate change blueprints such as the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate 2030 report, the Reinventing Fire initiative does not count on aggressive federal policy initiatives and assumes that the price of CO2 emission will remain zero. It also does not pin its hopes on a technological “silver bullet”. Rather, RMI envisions a series of self-reinforcing cycles of technological improvement in existing technologies across the automotive, building, industrial and electricity sectors that will allow efficient, green technologies to outcompete inefficient, fossil-fuel driven technologies in the market.

In his talk, Lovins focused mostly on the automotive sector. In this area, RMI identifies three self-reinforcing technological learning curves leading to the super light-weight “Revolutionary+ Auto”. The first is whole-system design, where engineers take a holistic approach to automobile design with a view to reducing weight as much as possible. Supporting this are advanced materials, such as the carbon-fiber composites currently used in the new Boeing 787, which could produce massive weight reductions by replacing steel in automobiles. As part of his talk, Lovins passed around a carbon-fiber composite “hat” that was as light as plastic and yet (according to Lovins) had withstood a full-on sledge hammer blow without a scratch. While currently quite expensive and difficult to mass-produce, Lovins sees huge potential for technological improvements in the carbon-fiber manufacturing process eventually making it competitive with other materials. Finally, once weight has been significantly reduced, all-electric powertrains will become more feasible. Current all-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf have a maximum range of about 100 miles on one charge. However, because most of a vehicle’s energy use comes from its weight, a significantly lighter vehicle would be able to go farther with fewer electric batteries and smaller motors (making the vehicle even lighter) than current models.

During the question-and-answer period, an audience member asked about improvements in energy storage technology. Holding up his cell phone, Lovins remarked that he believed that portable electronics would drive innovation in this area, and that it would be better for the automotive industry to focus on reducing weight and drag than on developing new batteries. Lovins also downplayed the need for extensive grid storage to handle a higher mix of intermittent renewable energy sources in our electricity supply. Noting that variability in the energy supply from renewable sources is predictable, Lovins expressed confidence that with sufficient expertise a stable electricity grid could be run with a diverse mixture of 80-100% renewables even in the absence of large-scale storage.

The Reinventing Fire initiative presents a hopeful view of an economy almost completely free of fossil fuels by 2050 based on evolutionary improvements in currently existing technology. Much more information on the initiative is available in the book Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute (available from Amazon). I am currently in the middle of reading it, and have found it to be well-written and insightful, with helpful color charts and illustrations and a writing style that is understandable for a non-engineer but not overly simplistic. The Reinventing Fire initiative grew out of the RMI’s 2004 book Winning the Oil Endgame, which is available for free in PDF form on the author’s website here. I encourage anyone with an interest in renewable energy and energy efficiency to take a look at these books, or check out Amory Lovins’ TED Talk on winning the oil endgame.

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From left: view of the cab; Erika “driving” the truck; view from the front. Photos courtesy of Isaac Griffith-Onen.

On December 15th Undersecretary of Energy Barbara Kates-Garnick cut the ribbon for 8 new vehicles in Frito Lay’s electric truck fleet at the distribution center in Braintree, MA.  This year, the company increased its electric truck fleet to 176 vehicles, making it the largest in the country.  The greenhouse gas emissions and fuel cost savings these trucks produce make them a sound advancement in environmentally friendly trucking.  Frito Lay drivers rave about the new green trucks; the vehicles are very quiet, almost in audible.  One employee, Ed St. Onge, told me that the trucks help with brand recognition and that people in cities approach the nearly silent running vehicles to ask questions.  The trucks also make more a more pleasant trucking experience because they do not use any gasoline, and therefore do not smell as pungent.

The trucks run entirely on electricity, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by about 75%, compared to a gasoline vehicle.  They are equipped with two large battery packs each containing 24 specially designed 12-volt batteries.  The batteries last 5-7 years, but the manufacturer can remotely detect if there is a problem with the battery before that.  If there is a problem, the company contacts Frito Lay with the exact truck information and details on the problem.  Braking regenerates the batteries, making the trucks ideal for stop-and-go traffic patterns.  The batteries last about 60 highway miles or 100 city miles and take about 5 hours to fully recharge.  Most trips Frito Lay makes are within 50 miles of the distribution center, making these vehicles ideal transporters.

At about $200,000 per vehicle, the trucks cost twice as much as a normal truck. However, Steve Hanson, Frito Lay Senior Sustainability Manager, says that the savings in fuel costs justifies the up-front difference within just 3-4 years.  While a diesel truck generates approximately $50-60 in daily maintenance costs, its electric counterpart only costs $6 per day.  Mr. Hanson said that part of Frito Lay’s motivation in kicking off this “green fleet” is in anticipation of future environmental standards becoming stricter.  Rather than new regulations forcing an abrupt change, Frito Lay has spent the past 7 years testing different green transportation technologies to determine which yielded the highest returns for the company.

From left: view of the dashboard; view of driver side battery pack; LED headlights. Photos courtesy of Isaac Griffith-Onen.

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Financial District, Aug 22, 2008

Image by John E. Lester via Flickr

By Dave Wedge | The Boston Herald
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is expanding his brand, boldly emblazoning his name on 600 bicycles positioned around the city in his highly touted new Hubway bike sharing program.

The new bikes, paid for through partnerships with private companies, are plastered with the word “Hubway,” the city seal and “Thomas M. Menino, Mayor.” Each bike also bears logos for chief sponsor New Balance.

“Like with any of our public-private partnerships, the city is represented,” Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce said of the barely disguised mayoral ads.

In 2005, the mayor was slammed by rivals for slapping his name all over the city. Menino’s name is etched on everything from hospital and library wings to billboards at Logan International Airport to fancy signs welcoming people into city neighborhoods.

Jason Tait, spokesman for the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said, “Incumbents can place their names and seals of their office on property, and we generally don’t view those name placements as in-kind contributions.”

The mayor has touted the Hubway program as a way to boost healthy, environmentally friendly transportation. The program has already exceeded expectations as organizers claim the bikes were used 37,000 times in the first month.

Bikers were unfazed by the privately funded mayoral ads.

“I could care less. I think it’s a great program. I ride every day, even in the rain,” said Emily Mowbray, 46, of Natick, picking up a bike on Boylston Street. “It’s the same thing as when you come into Massachusetts and you see the sign that says ‘Welcome to Massachusetts’ and you see the governor’s name.”

Ira Kantor contributed to this report.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1363934

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We asked Tom Bertulis, a bike enthusiast and Ph.D. student in the civil engineering department at NEU whether he was optimistic about Boston becoming as bike friendly as Portland or even New York City.  Here is his response.

After years of Boston being one of the worst biking cities in the country (three times in seven years, according to Bicycling Magazine) the Mayor of Boston has publicly come out in support of bicycling, has held the Biking Summit, and is developing a Bike Master Plan by one of the top sustainable transport consultants in the country.  Local Bicycle Advisory Boards and bicycling advocacy groups have played a pivotal role in the transformation of our region, galvanizing local citizens to action, holding several large-scale bike rides, and becoming an integral part of the local political process.  We have world class cycling experts, such as Northeastern Civil Engineering professor Peter Furth, to use as a resource as we move forward into the great unknown.

Boston now has 500 bike racks installed and dozens of miles of bike facilities, compared to the less than one mile we had before 2007. The Mayor proudly proclaimed his desire to turn Boston into a “World Class Bicycling City” and Bicycling Magazine has recently named Boston as one of its “Five for the Future” cities. According to the 2009 American Commuter Survey data, Boston has more than doubled its rate of bicycle commuting in just three short years and is now ranked 10th in bicycle commuting out of the 70 most populous US cities. Boston has been running an impressive Youth Cycling Education program and recently received $3 million to start a bike sharing program similar to the très magnifique Velib bike sharing program in Paris, France.

Granted, bike sharing may have limited potential for facilitating modal shift, but it is a form of free marketing for raising awareness of biking.  Aside from the psychological boon to bicyclists, with the City telling them “you, too, are important,” the stands and the bikes will symbolize the greater community’s acceptance of biking as a mode of transport.

Sure, the City of Boston could take a more bike friendly stance.  There is much work to be done if Boston wants to reach European levels of cycle-friendliness. Much of the “low-hanging fruit” has been plucked and more low stress bicycling facilities are sorely needed.  There are designs of cycletracks already done, sitting on the shelf, just waiting for approval from the current administration, and they aren’t moving.  So the flood gates haven’t opened yet.  But at least the water is trickling out, so-to-speak.  Boston has installed an (admittedly small) cycletrack in Alston, and the City of Boston recently approved a raised crossing near the Museum of Fine Arts, which is a critical first step in Boston becoming more like European cities in terms of pedestrian and cycle-friendliness.

A trickle is still a trickle.  It is movement in the right direction.  I believe that within a decade the flood gates will open and Boston will really become a cycle-friendly city.  We will take the lead from NYC and other American cities and maybe even pass them.  Boston has the right density.  Boston has an incredibly high student population.  The latent demand is there.  The national trendline is there.  After reading the book Pedaling Revolution by Jeff Mapes  I can’t help be anything but optimistic.

By Tom Bertulis

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On Earth Day 2010 (04/22/10), the Climate Action Leadership and the Community Advisory committees sent the report Sparking Boston’s Climate Revolution to Mayor Menino.  The report offers strategies for achieving Mayor Menino’s goal to reduce Boston’s GHG emissions 25% by 2020.  The proposals covered three areas: building efficiency and energy, solid waste, and transportation.

The report states that 27% of Boston’s 2008 GHG emissions originated from the transportation sector.  To make reductions, Boston has several programs in place including WalkBoston, Boston Bikes, Complete Streets and the diesel retrofit grant program for businesses.  Additionally, the city has retrofitted its diesel vehicles to run on biodiesel and has begun to retrofit school buses for ultra low sulfur diesel fuel and pollution control. To reduce transportation GHG emissions even more, the committees recommend the following:

  • Encourage the use of energy efficient taxis, and find ways to require efficiency improvements in taxis.
  • Develop a public campaign to improve automobile use behavior including improved vehicle maintenance, reduced driving speeds and smooth acceleration.
  • Improve enforcement of excessive anti-idling laws and educate the public on the benefits of reduced idling.
  • Expand bicycle infrastructure, including bike lanes and parking areas.
  • Promote bicycle and car sharing programs.
  • Utilize social media to encourage the use of mass transit, bicycling, walking, and ridesharing.
  • Encourage businesses to join transportation management associations.
  • Increase parking meter rates and analyze the costs and benefits of increasing meter hours.
  • Institute residential parking permit fees, including a graduated fee structure based on the number of vehicles in a household.

The committees predict that 30% of Mayor Menino’s GHG reduction goal can be achieved by creating and expanding green transportation programs.

Boston is one of several cities nationwide focusing on transportation emissions. Another leader is the San Francisco Bay Area.  Recently, seventeen transportation projects in the Bay Area each won a share of $33 million in federal funds from the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission Climate Initiative Program.  Nearly $10 million was awarded to electric vehicle purchase programs, including $6.9 million to purchase electric taxis in San Francisco and San Mateo and $1.7 million to buy electric vehicles for a car-share program in Berkeley and San Francisco.  The city of Berkeley also received $2 million to institute a new parking plan, which will include the creation of a flexible parking permit system designed to discourage driving and the installation of smart parking meters to afford variable parking fees.  Other programs received awards to create green school routes.  For example, Alameda County received $500,000 for its BikeMobile project, which will use a mobile truck to provide bike repairs along with bike safety and repair education to school children.  Other counties also received funding to create bike-sharing and car-sharing programs.  As these seventeen projects are instituted, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission hopes to find programs to expand throughout the Bay Area.

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The Longfellow Bridge

The nation’s transportation sector accounts for about a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it a prime target for emission reduction strategies. In dense cities in particular, biking and walking are realistic transportation alternatives to automobiles.

An upcoming—and much needed—refurbishment of the Longfellow bridge will provide Boston with an opportunity to make biking and walking both a safer and more viable choice. The project will be financed from the state’s $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program, a fund created to repair crumbling public structures.

Massachusetts highway officials are considering a major renovation of the bridge that would reduce the number of automobile traffic lanes, making the bridge more accessible to bike and foot traffic. Since the Boston-bound side of the bridge sees more traffic than the Cambridge-bound side, the latter is where the proposed changes would take place. The plan is to reduce this side of the bridge from two car lanes to a single one and use the remaining space to provide a lane for walkers and bikers. This plan—and a number of alternative proposals—were generated by a state task force. The task force included members from  Massachusetts General Hospital, TD Garden, WalkBoston, and the Charles River Watershed Association.

We’ll keep you posted when transit officials pick a design early this year. Before that happens, the state must submit its Environmental Assessment to the Federal Highway Administration.  Other cities have been working to become more bike-friendly as well. Portland and Minneapolis are the nation’s leaders in bicycle ridership and commuting. However, other cities are also generating their own replicable strategies. The City of Chicago, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation have collaborated to put together a Bike Lane Design Guide. This document shows how municipalities overcome the design challenges associated with integrating bike travel into busy urban traffic.

Despite these efforts, US cities still have a ways to go (via http://bostonbiker.org/tag/bike-lane/). Clearly, public buy-in and motorist respect for bike lanes is an essential hurdle to overcome. So is ensuring proper lane demarcation. Take a look at some examples of bike lanes in other cities, via StreetsBlog.org :


Notice the physical separation from traffic in this Montreal bicycle lane, as well as the buffered, two-way lane below (also in Montreal).

Germany goes even further by integrating bike lanes into part of the sidewalk, complete with a difference in color for clear indication of bike traffic (in Berlin):


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