Commuting to the Fenway area during baseball season can be daunting when the Sox are in town. On-street parking is banned on Brookline Avenue and surrounding streets as early as four hours before a game, while garage parking nearby is at least $40. The Green line train stops nearby, but is packed cheek-to-cheek with fans (and commuters) at gametime: not a pleasant experience in 90+ degree weather. Though the tough commute doesn’t deter Red Sox fans – it may even be part of the experience for some – a smoother version would be welcomed.
Well now there is a nicer way to get to the game. Thanks to a partnership between MassBike (The Massachusetts Biking Coalition), New Balance and the Boston Red Sox, you can now bike to Fenway Park and leave your bike with MassBike’s bike valet service for free.
According to the website, “The bike valet is located across from Gate D on the corner of Van Ness Street and Yawkey Way, opening 1.5 hours prior to game time and closing a half an hour post-game.” Note that they will also accept kick scooters. Yay for happier commuting to Fenway games! Other crowded city venues and event organizers should take note and hire MassBike to provide bike valet services.
In my last post I wrote about new Boston city center developments with parking space to apartment ratios of less than 1. A proposed development in the Financial District, on top of South Station (a key transit hub), goes against this idea with a garage that would provide more than 1.5 spaces per apartment. As the author points out, this proposal conflicts with the City’s Go Boston 2030 goals which include: an 80% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, an increase in public transit commutes of 30%, and a 50% decrease in single passenger car commutes. Wishful thinking it seems.
The developers behind a three-building, two million square foot, 677 foot-tall project on air rights over South Station that has been in the works since 1989 filed a notice of project change with the Boston Redevelopment Authority last Friday. They made some changes to the proportions of the project devoted to residential, hotel and office space, but most significantlty, they upped the amount of parking they want to build to 895 spaces. This is completely understandable, as it’s not like this project is close to, much less right on top of, a major transit hub with one rapid transit line, nine bus routes, nine commuter rail lines, taxis, car sharing services and Amtrak. Oh, wait, it is.
Not only does the presence of those parking spaces virtually ensure that nearly 900 more cars will clog the streets of the Financial District, increasing pollution and making residents more hostile to development…
While auto companies are still enjoying strong sales activity today, this may not be the case a decade from now. As more Millennials and Boomers choose to live in cities, the space and need for personal automobiles declines. In densely populated neighborhoods, developers are encouraged to build garages with fewer parking spots than there are apartments to keep car traffic growth in check. For example, a proposed development in downtown Boston, One Bromfield, would include one parking spot for 70% of apartments. Urban population growth is not the only reason why personal vehicle ownership seems likely to decline. Others reasons include:
The advent of car sharing and ride sharing companies (e.g. Uber, Lyft, Enterprise car share, Zip Car etc.) that makes owning a car less necessary
The evidence that Millennials are driving less compared to older generations at the same age due to lifestyle and attitudinal differences (see this research from transport scholar Noreen McDonald of UNC)
In preparation for a world that relies less on personal automobile ownership, automobile manufacturers are investing in alternative urban transport services and technology. This is happening globally, not just in the U.S. Here are some examples:
In May, Toyota and Volkswagen announced that they were “investing in technology start-ups that are working to change the way people travel by car” (see NYT’s article from May). These two aren’t yet going off the car chassis, but investing in ride sharing services. Toyota invested in Uber and Volkswagen investing $300 million in Gett, an app that is popular in Europe. Also notable is GM’s $500 million investment in Lyft announced in January of this year.
BMW has partnered with HAX, a hardware venture accelerator to launch Urban-X, a new accelerator focused on urban hyper-growth and smart cities. The urban transport-related firms selected for their current program include:
Brooklyness, creators of an intelligent, high-tech bike helmet (note: I just backed them on Kickstarter)
Samocat, creators of kick scooter sharing systems for cities
I ran a survey through Facebook ads to take a pulse of Boston-area commuter happiness. As of now, I have 25 responses: not a sufficient sample size for a scientific study of the topic, but enough to start writing about on this blog. The survey will remain open for those in the Boston-area who still want to contribute. Not surprisingly, about half of my survey participants are unhappy with their commutes.
Source: Happycommutes.com survey conducted through Facebook, May-June 2016
Most of them take some form of public transportation. I had no bikers, one walker and four drivers, so a pretty transit-reliant population. About one-third (or 8 out of 25) consider themselves to be mixed mode commuters and combine public transportation with walking or driving.
We receive a good number of gift cards to restaurants and retail establishments throughout the year. Planning when to use them can be tricky amidst our busy two-child family schedule. For this reason, a perfectly good $100 gift card to a great restaurant sat in our nightstand drawer for over two years. We finally dug it out in search of something unique to do during our atypically quiet July 4th weekend. The most unique part of our dining experience was not the dining, however – though the food was very good – it was how we got there.
The Not Your Average Joe’s restaurant closest to us is in Watertown, just a short block from the same Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path that passes close to where we live in Back Bay. Biking there seemed to me to be the most fun and logical option. Unfortunately, my 7 year old son did not agree. To be fair, his longest bike ride was hardly 20 minutes, and that was about a year ago. This trip is almost 7 miles one-way if you take the scenic route, along the Charles River. Realizing that we were asking a lot from our kids, my husband and I reset our expectations and agreed that plan B probably involved returning home hungry with an unused gift card.
This week I was a research participant in an MIT Media Lab project with the Persuasive Urban Mobility team of the The Changing Places Group. A key goal of the research is driving adoption of environmentally friendly behaviors in cities through persuasive environmental and social factors as well as through technologies that make adopting these behaviors easier. One of the key researchers on the team, Agnis Stibe, describes the concept of persuasive cities in depth in his recent TEDx Beacon Street talk. One example of environmental and social persuasion that he uses in his talk involves posting stats about bicycle commuters crossing the Harvard bridge. If you knew that 2,500 bikers crossed the bridge today (instead of staring at the 5 bikers out your window), that might persuade more car commuters to give biking a try. Commuting by bike would then be viewed as a more normal activity and not something that a weird minority engages in.
The project I participated in was about testing a mobile app protype that hopes to turn skittish / reticent cyclists into more confident urban cyclists through a voice-based coaching app. Eager to improve my own cycling and to mix up my kickscooter routine with some bigger wheels, I signed up to test out the prototype. Project team member Matthias Wunsch greeted me outside the Media Lab and handed me a smartphone and some basic Apple headphones. At first, the coach told me to practice rapid braking. Once I had mastered this move, I was ready to start my urban ride on the busy streets of Kendall Square.
The term “transit signal priority” (TSP) doesn’t sound too exciting; It’s a rather forgettable phrase. Easier to get excited about bike lanes, car share and Hyperloop as new transportation ideas than TSP. But, after a few months of becoming familiar with the idea, I now see why TSP and dedicated transit lanes are key to improving urban mobility today. When I talk about efficiency, I am referring to people’s time, pocket books, and energy use. According to TransitWiki: “TSP are operational improvements in the public transportation infrastructure that reduce dwell time at traffic lights for transit vehicles by holding green lights longer or shortening red lights.” In other words, Buses and trains get their own lights, with their own timing.
From what I’ve gathered, TSP exists in Boston in two parts of town: along several intersections of the Silver Line Bus route and at four intersections of the Bus 57 route. But the impact of TSP on bus service in these areas is minimal as the lights only speed up bus service when they are behind schedule (according to an Urban Liberty article). This adds predictability to my commute but does not help reduce the current wide gap that exists between car and bus commutes in the city.
I finally got my hands on the eMicro from Micro Scooters a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been having a blast riding it around Boston. I also took it to Long Island, New York over Memorial Day Weekend. As I wrote about in an earlier post, It’s the lightest electric scooter on the market at 16.5 pounds. With this new vehicle in my arsenal, I can now travel much farther with less effort. The picture below of the scooter’s box cover provides its key stats:
Light does not mean flimsy. On the contrary, it is made of high quality, robust parts and it is incredibly high-tech. The scooter is motion-controlled which means that the motor engages based on the rider’s movements. To make sure the rider is ready for the motor to kick in, she/he has to be going at 3mph before the motor engages. The back of the deck is packed with sensors and when you perform a scooter kick, the scooter will continue to accelerate until it reaches a maximum speed of 15 mph. This “kick assist” technology makes riding more fun when compared to riding a standard electric scooter that is either “on” or “off”.
Peer-2-peer businesses have permeated every retail segment, from real estate to camping equipment. In the personal transportation space, individuals have been able to share bikes (see Spinlister) and cars. But, those seeking alternative wheels (think Segways, electric scooters and unicycles) haven’t had a P2P space to go to, until now. Geneva-based oWheelClub recently launched to give individuals around the world the opportunity to rent a unique set of wheels from early adopters. P2P for these unique products makes a lot of sense, both for consumers and manufacturers of these new vehicles. The platform will allow individuals to try out expensive products before they commit to a purchase. The founder of oWheelClub also sees the service meeting the needs of travelers who want to visit a city differently and providing a new type of entertainment.
If you live in Boston, my solar panel electric scooter is now available for rent (cheaper than renting a Segway for the day BTW). So, for all of you who secretly desire to try an electric scooter, no more excuses: oWheelClub makes the transaction smooth and transparent. Check it out!
We’re all hooked on navigation apps and can’t remember what life was like without‘em. For the direction challenged, apps that give you turn-by-turn instructions are saviors. Their up-to-date travel time estimates increase the predictability of commutes. Without a doubt, these apps reduce commuting stress and bring happier commutes. But, while their benefits are significant, they have also made driving easier.
The decision to drive usually makes sense when minimizing commute time is the key goal. But, if your goal is to maximize enjoyment during the trip (whatever that means for you), or minimize travel costs, the fastest option may not be the answer. Maybe you can allot 30 minutes to a trip, so getting there in 15 minutes is not necessarily ideal. Future navigation apps should be able to help commuters optimize their route based on multiple goals, not just travel time.