News: Hubway in the Way?

hubway ball square

Thuvan Dang, the owner of Somerville Dry Cleaners & Tailors arrived at her store one April morning to an unexpected site. In the two parking spaces that had long served her laundry-laden customers, workers were installing a Hubway station.

Dang is one of four Ball Square business owners with uneasy feelings about the bike share station, along with Jo-Ann Keith at Stinky’s Kittens & Doggies Too, Lindsay Griffin of Lindsay Griffin Hair Salon, and Benjamin Tyler Oulton of Paramout Bicycle Repair. The row of 15 Hubway spots extends down Bristol Road, where it widens to merge onto Broadway, occupying precious parking spaces that had previously served those businesses’ customers.

“They took up a whole row,” Dang says, “and it hurts.”

Lost parking is a common small business lament, but this instance was especially painful because the owners had no warning about the change. Only one of the four in Ball Square — Oulton — says he heard from City Hall ahead of the installation.

“No one asked,” says Dang. “One morning I came in and I saw them finishing up the tracks.”

According to the minutes from the Traffic Commission meeting dated March 23, Traffic and Parking Department engineer Terrence Smith “stated he understood the city had made all necessary contacts.” The commission unanimously approved the change that night.

But Dang, Keith, and Griffin each say they were not asked about the Hubway station, nor were they notified before it went up.

In a statement to Scout, Somerville communications director Denise Taylor concedes that some of the Bristol Road business owners did not hear from the city.

“During the early winter, Transportation and Infrastructure staff made courtesy visits during business hours to the businesses next to the Hubway station and spoke with Benjamin Tyler Oulton of Paramount Bicycle Repair,” says Taylor. “Lindsay Griffin of Lindsay Griffin Hair Salon had not yet opened her business and the other two proprietors were not available.”

Griffin’s salon opened in mid-January, more than two months before the Traffic Commission meeting.

While Oulton, the bike shop owner, did speak with the city, he says the outreach was minimal and his concerns went ignored. “They didn’t even ask if I rented bicycles,” he says.

Meanwhile, the business owners have been able to get a sense for the station’s effect through the spring and summer.

“It’s screwing me,” Oulton says bluntly. “It’s not helping business at all. I’ve seen customers of mine use (the Hubway bikes). I’m very displeased with the city, and that they put (the station) right in front of the bike shop. I’m surprised it’s affecting my business this much.”

“Many of my customers are older, and it is difficult for senior customers to access my store,” says Keith, the owner of Stinky’s. “We also have problems with drivers making deliveries.” Many of them, she adds, are now forced to risk incurring a $50 fine and angering neighbors by double parking or taking a spot designated for resident permits.

Griffin expressed mixed feelings. “We lost the parking spaces when it’s already a bit of an issue finding parking around here,” she says. However, she also recognizes that some of her clients commute to work using the bikes, and a few even ride them to the salon. “Some people from the local area will swing by to use it and then see our space, so that’s a plus.”

The Ball Square Hubway station used to be in front of True Grounds, but was moved after owner Rhett Richard expressed concerns to senior transportation planner Sarah Spicer over the loss of valuable parking space. “Feedback from my customers came quickly after installation and I in turn gave my feedback to the city,” says Richard via email.

But Richard is adamant that the new location was by no means his idea. “Never, ever, never, ever did I request to put it in front of a different establishment … especially after speaking with some of the other business owners and hearing their complaints.”

Richard says he sympathizes with the Bristol Road business owners.

”I’m not (spiteful toward the city),” he says. “It just didn’t seem like that one department took too much consideration in verifying with business owners after the initial year. “

Keith and Dang have gone to City Hall twice in search of someone who will help them, but to no avail, and Keith says nobody from the Department of Traffic and Infrastructure has returned her calls.

Transportation and Infrastructure director Hayes Morrison was not available to comment. Speaking for the city, Taylor says the issue will be revisited by the time the bike share stations come down for the winter.

“The location is for the 2013 season and, as with all Hubway locations, will be reviewed and reconsidered at the end of the season before locations are set for the coming year,” Taylor says.

In the meantime, Bristol Road business owners say they are not going to let the issue rest.

“I guess we’ll just have to keep calling,” says Keith. -Caroline Kelly