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Two Wheels

Man vs. Machine

As Boston’s bike-sharing program gets underway, three travelers sought to see how it fits into the city’s transit web. From the Public Library in Copley Square, they set out on bicycle, Green Line subway, and taxi in a race to TD Garden.

By Martine Powers
Globe Correspondent / July 29, 2011

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Riding a Hubway bicycle on bike-sharing’s first day in Boston kind of felt like being a celebrity, a perk my two fellow racers missed out on as they ventured from the Boston Public Library via more conventional means.

A woman peppered me with questions at the rental kiosk. People gawked as I rode by. A man snapped a photo.

Everyone wanted to know: Does it actually work?

My inaugural ride got off to a slow start. When I went to purchase a 24-hour membership pass for $5 in front of the library, there was a guy in front of me, and only two bikes left. (The shortage was a hiccup that Hubway staff members plan to remedy in coming days.)

The man fumbled with the credit card reader, which works like one of those gadgets at the gas station. While he fussed with it for three minutes, I tapped my foot and huffed - I was losing precious time - but when my turn came, I was able to swipe my card and secure my membership number in under a minute.

With my $10 helmet secured, I was on my way.

For a city once known as one of America’s most unfriendly habitats for bikers, I was surprised by the space and respect people gave me. On Boylston Street, I signaled with my arms when making a turn, and vehicles, even MBTA buses, yielded plenty of room.

The bigger hazard was pedestrians. Every time an oblivious shopper sauntered into oncoming traffic, screech!

Another problem: navigation. I needed directions from Copley Square to North Station, and stealing glances at the Google Maps print-out clutched in my hand proved unwieldy - and, to be honest, a little dangerous - as I zipped through intersections. Cycling and surviving in Boston is hard to do when you do not know where you are going.

But even with my anxiety about unpredictable pedestrians, looming duck boats, and confusing one-way streets, I reveled in the ride. I finally had the chance to enjoy the finer points of city living: the smell of sizzling street food from Downtown Crossing. The cool breeze wafting from Boston Common. And the sight of an angry motorist flipping off a taxicab driver who cut him off. So much Boston ambience to absorb.

I clicked my bike into the North Station bike dock just under the 30-minute mark, so I paid no additional fee. I came in behind my colleagues, but contend I would have beaten the cab during rush hour and would have vanquished the T if the route required a transfer.

True, I lost the race. But I would choose a brisk bike ride over brusque cab drivers and sweltering Park Street train platforms any day.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.


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