HelmetHub vending machines installed in Boston

Improving the bicycling culture of Boston was a major priority for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, especially during his fifth term, when Boston launched the New Balance Hubway bike sharing system and announced a comprehensive plan which will add 75 miles of new bike lanes in five years. The plan hopes to grow Boston’s bike lane network to 356 miles.

I was involved with Hubway and Boston Bikes for more than two years in Mayor Menino’s press office.

Biking has always attracted press attention in Boston and elsewhere. Bike sharing, in particular, is a hot topic. But bike sharing safety is a concern. One more recent venture aims to fix the safety gap, and it made great press, to boot.

The HelmetHub machine is a street kiosk built right into the Hubway platform that allows for users to rent and return helmets at the same time that they rent Hubway bicycles. Returned helmets are removed from the machine and taken for inspection and sanitization.

HelmetHub vending machine
HelmetHub vending machine
HelmetHub, a company that grew out of an MIT class, won a contract with the City in May to design, test, and implement this kind of helmet rental system in Boston, which Hubway riders have been asking for since the sharing service began in Boston.

When we announced the placement of the first machine, we did it as a traditional press release blast, with follow-up and interview availability to reporters. The result was a successful media campaign, blending the city, Hubway, and HelmetHub for shared publicity across local and national outlets.

The key moment in this campaign came from Time Magazine, which lauded that “One City Finally Solved Bike Sharing’s Big Safety Problem.”

Other Coverage included:

A chair that charges your smartphone

Just because winter in Boston lasts forever doesn’t mean the sun goes away. In Boston, we wanted to give people something to make the cold, sunny, winter days more enjoyable. So we teamed with the MIT Media Lab to put solar-powered chairs that charge your smartphone, right on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

A seat that charges your smartphone with solar power, seat-e was developed by MIT Media Lab in partnership with the City of Boston
A seat that charges your smartphone with solar power, seat-e was developed by MIT Media Lab in partnership with the City of Boston

The pair of seats will provide city dwellers with a source of renewable energy to charge their phones and allow users to interact with imbedded “social lights,”’ which shift colors based on the use of the seats. Future versions of seat-e will include air quality sensors to measure smoke, exhaust and odor. The data collected will be available to the public.

This is the kind of public-private partnership that shows how creative government can be when we put our heads together. “seat-e” was designed and built by MIT alumna Ines Gaisset, MIT Media Lab Visiting Scientist Sandra Richter, and Media Lab PhD candidate Nan Zhao. The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics partnered with MIT and hte Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy.

Boston Globe coverage of seat-e
Boston Globe coverage of seat-e
The partnership goes towards Boston’s Complete Streets initiative, aimed at making streets and streetscapes better looking, greener, smarter, and more multi-modal.

Boston Complete Streets policy continues to balance our streets for all road users, making it as safe and convenient for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users as it is for those in a car. This latest edition thinks beyond just “multimodal” and incorporates “green” and “smart” components into the streetscape, a unique approach in this realm.

As the Mayor’s Deputy Press Secretary, I worked with the three major partners involved in this project to secure coverage in The Boston Globe, and I put out a press release to our office’s wide-ranging media list, including television, radio, and online reporters.