Boston Mayor Thomas Menino announced the installation of the first helmet vending machine in the United States Tuesday to allow residents and tourists to rent a helmet before the use of Hubways, the popular bike sharing service.
Nicole Freedman, director of Boston Bikes, said HelmetHub was created when a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology asked her if there were any projects she wanted him to work on.
“We had just launched bike-share, [and we had] no solution for helmets,” she said. “Students from MIT designed a helmet vending machine. They then followed up when they graduated that year, and turned it into the company HelmetHub.”
Boston is the first city in the United States to install this kind of machine, located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street.
Freedman said she hopes to dramatically increase the use of bike helmets and bike-share, as well as reduce head injuries.
“I am thrilled to introduce another Boston biking first,” Menino said in a Tuesday release. “This is the first bike-share helmet vending machine in the country. Our goal is to make Hubway a great and sage way to get around town, and HelmetHub is a step in the right direction for our growing cycling culture in the City of Boston.”
Greenovate, an umbrella initiative that encompasses bike-share, energy programs and other green programs throughout the city, has worked closely with Boston Bikes to get the community engaged around sustainability, said Greenovate Fellow Enita Hussain.
“We want to engage community and encourage them to take small actions to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint by reducing our own carbon footprint,” she said. “If we encourage people to bike … we’re inherently encouraging people to live a greener life. By adding the helmet system, by making it safer and more convenient for people to bike, it makes people want to take that extra step and get out of their cars.
Pete Stidman, executive director of Boston’s Cyclists Union, said he supports the helmet machines because biking in Boston should be made safer.
“The more access you can provide to helmets, especially for Hubway users and other casual riders, clearly the better,” he said. “A helmet is like an insurance policy. You probably aren’t going to need it, but if you do, you really need it. There’s no substitute.”
Freedman said since the project is brand new, there is still a lot to work on.
“We will identify a lot of things we want to work on,” she said. “One thing we know instantly is right now, when you pull a helmet, it comes from the front end, and then you return it on the back side. In future designs, we’ll look at a way so that 100 percent of locations work for bike-share.”
Freedman said more helmet machines would go up in the spring and they would run tests to make sure the ratio of helmet machines to bike-share is correct.
Some residents said they supported the helmet machine because it makes biking safer and Boston a more environmentally friendly city.
Kathryn Hashey, 32, of the South End, said the helmet machine is a great idea and she has been waiting for helmets to be publicly accessible since she started using Hubway.
“I use Hubway for commuting between Boston and Cambridge regularly,” she said. “It’s dangerous to bike without a helmet in Boston. The roads are really bad and people are really bad drivers. I use Hubway because of the convenience of it. It’s one thing I really like about it, but I don’t always have a helmet for it.”
Jason Henrichs, 40, of Boston, said he always wears a helmet when he rides a Hubway bike and he hopes this initiative will get other residents to do the same.
“People need to appreciate how frequently accidents do happen,” he said. “I’ve been hit twice on a bike in the city. It’s too easy to get hit.”
Regina Galea, 36, of Boston, said if you can rent a bike, you should be able to rent a helmet.
“It’s a good idea to have a rental helmet system,” she said. “Otherwise, people are going to ride without helmets and it’s obviously not as safe. It reinforces the use of the bike system and gets cars off the road. With helmets, more people will start using Hubway.”