Monday, July 22, 2024

Bicycles in the Hubway rental program wait for riders outside South Station in Boston. Hubway is to arrive in Cambridge in the spring, with helmet-dispensing machines and a safety brochure. (Photo: John Dalton)

When 20 bike rental stations arrive in the spring, the City Council expects them to be accompanied by HelmetHub machines — helmet dispensers designed by a dozen Massachusetts Institute of Technology students — and a reminder of the rules of the road.

The councillors said so Monday in an 8-1 vote that may well have been unanimous but for Craig Kelley’s continued dismay over a possibly outsized priority being put on bicycle safety and rules enforcement. Recent council candidates James Williamson said during the night’s public comment period that the helmet dispensers should dispense a brochure with the bicycling rules of Cambridge. Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom offered a version of his idea (that the city “prepare a brochure on the rules of the road for dispensing with the helmets”) as an amendment to Henrietta Davis’ order seeking installation of the machines.

“I continue to be just amazed at how focused we are that someone renting a bicycle needs to study [the rules],” Kelley said. “I rented a car from Enterprise in Central Square the other day and they just looked at my license and sent me on my merry way … we’re not making anyone who rents a car acknowledge that they know it’s dangerous to text and drive. I get hit by cars probably once every two months, and I’m really getting tired of everyone looking at the rental program as a menace.”

The program, called Hubway (with naming rights going to New Balance, the Boston maker of athletic gear), debuted in Boston in July with 60 stations and 600 bikes. It was expected to make it to Cambridge in the fall, but the rollout there and in Somerville, which is expected to get eight rental stations, was delayed to spring. The system offers memberships for $85 a year, $12 for three days and $5 for a day; members get unlimited half-hour rides, with higher fees for longer trips.

The solar-powered dispensers have been described as costing $8 per helmet, with a partial refund if a helmet is returned.

Bicycle renters have to sign a form saying they understand the rules of the road. The council’s vote means those rules should be also available in brochure form, even if they’re not dispensed with helmets, so riders can brush up before pedaling away.

Tops in reported crashes

Bicycle safety and legal riding have been topics for months, thanks in part to Williamson’s campaigning and the city’s preparations for the coming of Hubway. Early in January VanBeuzekom noted Cambridge’s rankings among the state’s top 200 crash locations in an August report by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The report is limited — it tracks only reported, geocoded crashes between 2002-09 — but puts Cambridge in the top 10 multiple times for pedestrian and bicycle incidents.

The dramatic number of bicycle crashes is likely a natural result of what’s been called a 150 percent surge in bicycle use since 2002, to the extent that Cambridge was named the seventh-best bike city in the country by the League of American Bicyclists last year. By league figures, bicycle commuters make up 8.5 percent of the overall population.

Cambridge contributes two of the state’s top 10 pedestrian crash clusters (No. 3, with 94 crashes, is Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square; No. 6 is Elm Street from Davis Square nearly to Porter Square, and as such shares its 38 crashes with Somerville) and essentially is the list of top 10 bicycle crash clusters: It takes every slot but Nos. 7 and 8.

The No. 1 spot, shared with Somerville, is where Kirkland and Cambridge streets meet Beacon and Hampshire streets; the No. 2 spot is on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square; the No. 3 spot is again with Somerville, at Massachusetts Avenue around Porter Square; the No. 4 spot is down Massachusetts Avenue toward MIT; the No. 5 spot is southeast of Harvard Square starting from where Massachusetts Avenue meets Mount Auburn Street; No. 6 extends from Norris Street along Massachusetts Avenue and across Route 16 into Arlington; No. 9 is on Massachusetts Avenue where it meets Memorial Drive; and No. 10 is on Broadway above Central Square. The number of crashes ranges from 106 crashes reported at the top spot to 22 at the No. 10 spot.