[Are you there, Blog? It's me, Darren. I know it's been awhile, because of a 100-year storm of personal, professional, and scholarly timesuck. But I know you wouldn't want to miss this post for anything!]
Increasing access to bikesharing for low-income communities, and groups disproportionally underrepresented in bicycling, is a bit of an obsession for me lately. And happily, others are interested too (unlike my previous side-project, a banjo-adaptation of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”).
Some time ago, the Denver Post ran an article centered around the objection of Councilman Paul Lopez to the lack of stations accessible to his largely Latino constituency in SW Denver:
Lopez said the stations are needed in areas that are the least healthy in the city. His district has a high rate of obesity and diabetes, and he said residents should be given every type of encouragement to exercise.
“If it is truly about behavioral change, make it available where it is really needed or where it will have impact,” he said. “Is this truly, truly about the issues and behavioral change or is this just for looks?”
Soon after, the paper penned an editorial, that expressed the sad financial reality, that in the interest of remaining sustainable, Denver Bike Sharing had little choice but to site stations where they were projected to produce the most operating revenue, and that was regrettably not in Mr. Lopez’s district. I had the chance to speak with Parry Burnap, Denver Bike Sharing’s director, soon after, and we agreed that if there was a positive to be taken from the episode, it was that the need and desire for bikesharing expansion to neighborhoods where the total benefit would be highest had been publicly and evenhandedly highlighted.
Then, a few days ago, GridChicago had a great rundown of plans for the new Chicago bikesharing system to ensure that it is (gosh, I hate this headline though), “Bike share, not white share.” From the closing paragraph:
“My number-one priority is getting a membership that reflects the diversity of the city,” [CDOT deputy commissioner Scott] Kubly assures them. “Since we’re using public dollars, it’s important that the folks who are using the service reflect everybody in the community. It’s a challenge but we’re going to crack it.”
That’s where I hopefully can help out, with my forthcoming final grad school project on the topic. I blasted out a survey, asking both deployed and planned North American bikesharing entities to complete a short survey on how they are working to promote equitable access to their systems. I received responses from twenty systems (THANK YOU ALL OF YOU!!), and I’ll have the full report done in less than two weeks (hooray!). The responses validated what I will describe here – seven categories of stuff that bikesharing systems are doing, and can do, to promote equity. And yes, some are more important, or harder, or more expensive, than others.
Station Siting – This question asked bikesharing system managers if they were planning to ensure that some stations are located in areas primarily serving low-income communities. Examples might include conscious placement of stations adjacent to affordable housing, or prioritizing expansion to minority neighborhoods disproportionately underrepresented in bicycling.
Financial Assistance – This could be a partnership with a nonprofit agency providing bank accounts and debit/credit cards to low-income “unbanked” citizens, installment payment plans, subsidies for low/moderate income users, and relaxing security deposit requirements.
Safe Places to Ride – Bikesharing gets ridden more often near bike facilities, but socioeconomically-disadvantaged neighborhoods are significantly underfunded for these facilities. What is the bikesharing system doing to press the powers-that-be to bring bike facilities to those neighborhoods, to help ensure bikeshare gets ridden safely and more often?
Membership Media – Having a subsidized credit card to get a bikeshare membership is great. But most people already have a transit farecard. Perhaps a common payment card could not only lower a barrier, but could be one big step toward fuller integration of bikesharing with the public transportation system.
Community-Specific Marketing and Outreach – Or, efforts being made to introduce low-income and minority groups underrepresented in bicycling to bikesharing. By targeting marketing and outreach specifically to low-income communities, or by targeting marketing and outreach to the concerns and communications channels of minority communities underrepresented in bicycling, bikesharing systems might be able to activate latent demand for system use in these communities.
Overcoming Bicycling Barriers – The bikesharing system can make resources available that could help lower psychic barriers to bicycling and bikesharing use among low-income and minority groups underrepresented in bicycling. Examples include making helmets and basic bicycle instruction easily available.
Providing Economic Contribution to Communities – Bikesharing can provide some intrinsic economic benefits to all communities, such as reducing the personal costs of travel for users, and generating more trips overall that result in additional economic activity. However, this question asked bikesharing systems about ways in which the operations are directly contributing to the economic well-being of low-income communities. Examples might include recruiting employees from low-income communities, locating operations in places easily accessible to low-income neighborhoods, and partnering and subcontracting with community-oriented nonprofit agencies.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll have the full report, with details on what different systems are doing, discuss patterns of who’s doing what, etc etc. But in the meantime, what did I miss?