Infrastructure Must Reads: Boston Gives Bike Helmets a Try

Helmet dispensing machines will debut in Boston over the next few weeks. Plus, more news you should know about transportation and infrastructure.
August 26, 2013
Cyclists riding rental bicycles on the launch of the state's first bike share program in 2011.
Boston's bike-share program launched in 2011. AP/Steven Senne

Bike-share programs are popping up in big cities across the country at a rapid pace, and most are missing a key safety item: the helmet.  To up the number of riders on congested city streets with head protection, HelmetHub, the brainchild of recent MIT graduates, will start dispensing helmets for rent at several bike-share stations in the Boston area within the next few weeks. I spoke with co-founder and CFO Breanna Berry about the program in this edited and condensed transcript.

What's the launch going to look like?

We'll be releasing our pilot program soon in Boston. It will start off with four machines at four locations. Those will be directly attached to the bike-sharing docks. It will expand around October or November to 14 machines.

How did you come to work with the city?

The city of Boston's bike director, Nicole Freedman, presented at MIT our senior year in our capstone design class. She came in and said that the city has this great bike-sharing program [and that] the only problem is it doesn't have helmets available for users. The city views it as a huge liability, and it's something the city wants for its citizens. That drove our initial interest; we thought there was a substantial market for it. We presented a prototype -- both to the city of Boston and to our class -- and the city of Boston followed through.

How do the machines work?

There's a touch-screen interface. The helmet drops below where the touch screen is located. It's pretty easy to pick up. You put it on, go for a ride, and when you get back you'll rescan your credit card and [return the helmet]. There are two different sides for dispensing and returning the helmets. When they're returned, they're taken out of circulation, inspected and sanitized. There's room for 36 helmets on the dispensing side and 24 on the return side.

Is that enough helmets?

We designed our machines [so that they'll] only need to be visited once a day or less [to collect helmets for cleaning]. If it does take off, we designed it to have three times more helmets than we anticipate people getting. We could be totally off with that number. We understand there might be some need for redesign and development with our product. But we don't anticipate that being within the next year.

Do you always use a helmet when you ride a bike?

I do. Always. You'd be crazy not to use a helmet.

Must-reads

Links to planning and infrastructure stories you might have missed

The opening of a new stretch of light rail outside of Salt Lake City marks the culmination of Utah's FrontLines 2015 project, which adds more than 70 miles of light rail to the Utah Transit Authority system.

The eastern span of the Bay Bridge will open after Labor Day weekend, despite a problem with bolts that had threatened the project.

The Dallas Morning News evaluates DART, the country's largest light rail system, on its 30th anniversary and considers whether it's fulfilled its goals.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials are using a cardboard cut out of a police officer to deter bike thefts at a transit stop in Cambridge.

The San Antonio Express-News reports that the Texas DOT is temporarily pausing a plan to convert some rural roads from pavement to gravel after getting push back.

The hybrid bus company that previously employed Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has filed for bankruptcy.

In a span of just a few days, babies were born at transit stations in D.C. and in New York.

The Alaska DOT is installing web cams so that in the event of an avalanche, they can go back to the footage and see if anyone was trapped.

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