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Figures of Progress: Emily Stapleton and Eric Gilliland, General Managers, Alta Bicycle Share

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As you go about your day, you’re often faced with the decision of how to get from Point A to Point B in the most efficient and easiest way possible. On the street, you likely have many choices from your own vehicle to biking, and it’s people like Emily Stapleton and Eric Gilliland who hope you choose the latter.

“I’ve been involved in cycling in one way or another since I moved to D.C. in 1993,” says Gilliland. “At first it was as a bike commuter, then as a bike messenger, then as events director and eventually executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “ Today, Gilliland is the general manager of Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C.

For Stapleton, the general manager of Boston’s bike share, Hubway, her transportation journey started in 2007. The deciding moment came as she waited for a late bus in San Francisco feeling stranded, not knowing when—or if—it would show up. ”I wanted to be part of the movement to improve transportation service offerings and to increase availability of real-time decision-making data,” says Stapleton.

Both Capital Bikeshare and Hubway are programs operated by Alta Bicycle Share, a company that designs, deploys and manages bicycle shares in cities around the world. As general managers they oversee program operations in their respective cities, monitoring things like bike usage and functionality.

With an initial launch of 61 stations in 2011, Hubway has more than doubled in size to 128 stations across Boston and three other municipalities in the region: Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline. Capital Bikeshare has 293 stations, with more planned for D.C., Arlington, Alexandria and Montgomery County, Maryland.

When planning where to put stations, Stapleton and Gilliland say studies are conducted to gather data about population, income, employment, retail centers and current transportation availability. “In addition to quantitative data, qualitative factors such as availability of bicycle and pedestrian networks are taken into account, as well as practical matters such as availability of sunlight for the station kiosk’s solar panels,” says Stapleton.

Bike share riders can purchase 1-day, 3-day, monthly or annual passes so that they can ride just for fun or for their daily commute. With thousands of bicycles rented and returned at different kiosks, Hubway and Capital Bikeshare teams often have to rebalance—move bikes from station to station—throughout the day. “We check station and bike usage on a daily basis to make determinations on how to better rebalance the system, and make recommendations to [the cities] where stations need to be expanded to meet demand,” says Gilliland.

And the demand is there. Since 2011, Hubway has seen 1.5 million bike miles traveled, 60 million calories burned and 450 tons of CO2 emissions saved. And for D.C., the city is ranked third behind Portland and Minneapolis for highest bicycle commuting rates. In fact, Capital Bikeshare is on a mission to beat Chicago to claim the title of the second largest system in the United States by the end of 2013.

But perhaps one of the greatest things these bike shares do is create a bridge between multiple communities. “People are not confined to municipal boundaries for work or play; transportation systems need not have borders at municipalities either,” says Stapleton. “Stations and bicycles in the Hubway network are owned by each individual municipality, but those bicycles flow freely across all municipalities.” Integrating the bike shares into existing public transportation, such as the T in Boston and Metro in D.C., allows residents to easily make longer journeys that they might of previously used a car for.

And as Gilliland says, “A place that embraces cycling for fun, fitness and transportation is one that is healthier, happier and more sustainable. As our population grows, and more and more people move into urban areas, priority needs to be placed on developing transportation systems that move people, not just people in cars."

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