Driving, biking, the MBTA—there are plenty of ways for Boston’s commuters to get to and from the office, but which is the fastest? The 2015 Rush Hour Race, which returns to Boston for the third time this year, will attempt to determine just that, by pitting a cyclist and a Hubway rider against a T rider and a driver to see who can make the shortest trip from downtown Boston to Union Square in Somerville.
The race kicks off at the Howard Stein Hudson building on the corner of Beacon and Tremont Street, where participants will sit at desks until 6 p.m. as if this was an average workday. When the clock strikes six, they’ll slip downstairs, find their mode of transportation and race one another to Union Square Plaza.
“The idea really is to promote alternative transportation and try to get people thinking about different ways of traveling in Boston,” says Somerville Bicycle Committee secretary Ken Carlson, who brought the Rush Hour Race to the city in 2012. “I think people who bike and people who already take alternative modes know that driving is the most frustrating way to get around Boston. It’s a much smaller city on a bicycle.”
According to Carlson, the race is an attempt to encourage people who aren’t yet bike commuters to embrace their bicycles by showing them examples of ordinary people who get around the city on two wheels. In fact, this year’s cycling representative is a woman who’s relatively new to bike commuting. “We’re not looking to have Lycra-clad young men zipping through the streets,” he says with a laugh. “She’s a great example of … a person who just took up bike commuting and really loves this.”
Unofficial riders are welcome to race alongside the participating riders, and you don’t have to race to join in on the fun—stop by Union Square Plaza from 5:30 until 9 p.m. to enjoy Pretty Things beer and food from local vendors. The 6 p.m. start of the 2015 Rush Hour Race sets it apart from the first two competitions, which began at Redbones Barbecue and tackled the morning commute. Wrapping up the race in the evening in the evening gives commuters and community members a chance to talk transportation modes over brews and food. Carlson explains that this is a great opportunity for those who don’t yet travel by bicycle to talk to members of the cycling community. “You start realizing, ‘Wow, there are other people doing this,'” he says. “And then you start talking about, ‘Oh, what do you wear when it rains? You biked all winter, how do you do that? You bike at night? What kind of lights do you have?’ That makes it all much more manageable and makes it much more accessible.”
Carlson isn’t making any predictions about who will win—history has shown that the race will be tight—though he admits that between traffic and having to find a parking space, the driver’s chances are slightly worse. The cyclist won the first Rush Hour Race, and the MBTA rider took home bragging rights in the second one (but only because the MBTA rider “walked right out and, boom, caught a T,” says Carlson). The driver has always finished dead last, though Carlson is quick to point out that the race isn’t an attempt to shame motorists. Encouraging people to use other modes of transportation benefits drivers too—the more people who opt to take the T or ride their bike, the less congested the roadways will be.
Ultimately, the goal is to dispel the idea that cyclists in the city are “college kids who have a death wish,” says Carlson, who adds that he knows people from retirees to young parents and their children who cycle through the city.
“You don’t have to have specialized muscles or a death wish to be a bike commuter,” he says.
The 2015 Rush Hour Race departs from 1 Beacon St. Plaza at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12 and wraps up at Union Square Plaza in Somerville. Find more information on the race here, and check out bios of this year’s participants below.
Kristjan Varnick, Hubway rider: Any day I get to ride, is a good day. Cycling has been part of my commute for over 8 years. I currently ride from Somerville to downtown Boston. Everything thing in the area is only a few miles apart, and cycling is the best way to get around. Watching the number of riders, bike lanes and events in the area take off, has been unbelievable. Living near Hubway is a huge plus. I’ve taken over 300 rides with Hubway. In the wintertime, I take Hubway to the Red Line from Inman Square. In the summertime, Hubway is my favorite way to zip around Boston. There is tons of great cycling in the Boston area. Do Hub on Wheels. Try Hubway. Go. Ride. More.
Jeremy Mendelson, transit rider: Jeremy is a transit service planner and co-founder of Transit Matters, an organization dedicated to improving public transportation system by making the MBTA more effective, convenient and affordable. He has designed bus and rail networks for transit agencies, toured dozens of cities and towns to study their transportation networks, and written extensively about transit planning, street design, bicycle and pedestrian safety, and social and environmental justice.
When not waiting for a bus at Dudley Square, you can find Jeremy transporting things by bike, exploring new neighborhoods or scheming to make bus travel fast and easy. Follow him on Twitter @CriticalTransit.
Mark Gravallese, motorist: Mark has over 14 years of experience in managing the development and sequencing of roadway, tunnel, facility and bridge projects. As the former MassDOT District 6 Projects Engineer, Mark’s expertise lays in the review, examination, and approval/ disapproval of complex and diversified engineering data, such as design plans, specifications, contracts, and bids. During his tenure at MassDOT, he routinely demonstrated his ability to work collaboratively with all engineering disciplines within the Highway Districts, MassDOT headquarters, MBTA, municipalities, contractors, design consultants, and other Federal and State agencies and authorities.
As HSH’s Manager of Public Infrastructure, Mark provides guidance to communities relating to MassDOT policies, engineering standards, planning, and funding to design cost-effective and context-sensitive projects. He specializes in managing complex urban infrastructure projects focusing on progressive designs that fit today’s transportation landscape and are sustainable for the future.
Ariel Horowitz, cyclist: Ariel Horowitz is a relatively new bike commuter riding a really old bike. Ariel just finished her doctorate in chemical engineering at Tufts. Her normal cycling turf is in Greater Camberville. She restarted cycling as an adult after being charmed by the Google bikes during a visit to the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA, and has been delightedly tooling around ever since. Ariel lives in Somerville with her fiance and two cats.