After Fixing Flawed Study, LAB Finds Chicago Bike Plan Will Boost Equity

New Image3
Residents check out info about the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan at a South Side input meeting. Photo: Steven Vance

Earlier this month, the League of American Bicyclists released a report with a method for exploring how well bike networks provide access to underserved communities. Using Chicago as a case study, the report found that our city’s “planned network” would provide African-American and Latino neighborhoods with less than their fair share of access to bike lanes and paths.

However, the map that the report analyzed was not actually a map of Chicago’s planned bike network. After Streetsblog Chicago ran two posts drawing attention to the problem, the League has finally overhauled the report using the correct data. As a result, the study now finds Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 would significantly improve access for communities of color.

The report, “Equity of Access to Bicycle Infrastructure,” was written by Rachel Prelog, a Colorado-based urban planning grad student. Using data from the city of Chicago’s geographic information system portal, Prelog analyzed what she thought was the network of proposed streets for new bikeways.

Although the 2020 Plan was created after an extensive public input process, with the goal of creating a network that serves all Chicagoans equitably, Prelog’s original report suggested that the effort was a failure. She wrote that African Americans would “account for a large proportion of the residents who would not benefit from the expanded system.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 5.23.41 PM
Prelog’s map of the city’s “planned network” didn’t correspond with CDOT’s 2020 Plan map.

Worse, she wrote, “The full build bicycle network… would do little to improve access for Chicago’s Hispanic/Latino community.” She stated that the network would only provide one percent more of Chicago’s Latino population with quarter-mile access to bicycle paths and lanes.

However, the “planned network” map that Prelog analyzed was actually based on “recommended routes” shown on the city’s Chicago Bike Map, distributed for free at events and shops. Many of these routes don’t appear on the 2020 Plan map, and many of the 2020 Plan routes don’t appear on the Chicago Bike Map.

Soon after the study came out, I posted about the map problem, and called for the League to overhaul the report with the correct data. In response, they simply added a few disclaimers to the document to say the maps reflected “the data available at the time of this report.” However, at no point in time did the city’s database classify the recommended routes shown on Prelog’s map as the “planned network.”

bike_equity_indhhex_final_web
After the LAB revised the study using the correct 2020 Plan map, they found that the plan would improve bike access for communities of color.

In a follow-up post, I argued that the still-flawed LAB study was harmful because it would undermine support for building Chicago’s bike network, even though its claim that the plan would underserve communities of color was based on bad data. “It’s puzzling why the League won’t simply acknowledge that Prelog made an honest mistake and ask her to plug an accurate map of the 2020 Plan network into the Bike Equity Index model,” I wrote. “Wouldn’t that be more in line with the League’s equity goals than their current strategy of refusing to admit the report needs to be overhauled?”

Thankfully, the League changed their approach. This time, they reached out to the Chicago Department of Transportation to ask for the correct shapefiles for the 2020 Plan network. A statement about the report update on the League’s website notes, “The case study on Chicago now reflects the most up-to-date data related to bicycle infrastructure plans in the city.” The LAB still hasn’t acknowledged that their original report was wrong, but that’s a trivial issue.

Much more importantly, after running an analysis of the real planned network, Perlog found that, rather than disenfranchising communities of color, the 2020 Plan would significantly improve equity. “The full build bicycle network would greatly increase access for Chicago’s Hispanic/Latino community by providing 32 percent more of its population with access to bicycle facilities,” she wrote. “This increased access to bicycle facilities would go a long way towards providing healthy and safe travel options for this community.”

The revised report also states that the new network would provide 32% more of Chicago’s African-American population with access to bikeways. “Furthermore, the implementation of the full build network would reduce the proportion of the African-American population living in underserved areas,” Perlog wrote. “Where they currently account for 35 percent of the population in [areas underserved by the existing network], under the full build network they would only account for 32 percent of the underserved demographic,” she writes.

The revised LAB revised report certainly doesn’t prove that the 2020 Plan will resolve Chicago’s major bike equity issues. But it does offer some reassurance that the city’s bikeway planning efforts are on the right track.

  • dbekken

    And don’t get me started on Divvy, expanding to Evanston yet nonexistent West of California

  • The current Divvy service area goes to Pulaski, a mile and a half west of California. Next year, the system will expand west to Oak Park, adding several new West Side communities in the process.

  • ohsweetnothing

    I live right off Central Park and there’s a station a half block away from me…

  • Good work John. And thanks LAB for paying attention.

  • dbekken

    Google maps shows nothing West of Kedzie on West and North sides, and the Divvy site’s map is nearly useless on an Android.

  • dbekken

    Just downloaded Divvy Bike Locator ap, Google and Divvy fail

  • Kelly Pierce

    When doing a census track by census track analysis of the network, it is simplistic to suggest, as this study does, that under investment of bike infrastructure can be remedied by less bike infrastructure in communities of white non-Hispanics and investment in communities of color. The greater downtown area has a large concentration of hundreds of thousands of jobs. These jobs not only power the Chicago economy, but the Illinois economy as well. Obviously, good bike infrastructure must connect people to these jobs as well as the government services, courts, shopping, entertainment, and health care services in this area. It seems a little silly to say that the PBL along Dearborn Street in the Loop is a bike equity issue, considering many people travel through the Loop for many services. Many whites live downtown, but the bike infrastructure there accommodates many tourists and large numbers of people from other parts of the city. I cannot imagine any local suggesting moving bike infrastructure from downtown to create better bike equity. I wonder what the census track analysis for bike equity would look like if downtown Chicago were excluded and the periphery were examined.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Chicago’s Bike Plan Is Inequitable, Says Report Based on Wrong Map

|
There’s great potential to use statistics and mapping technology to help ensure that bicycle resources are distributed equitably to people of all races and income levels. For example, Streetsblog’s Steven Vance and data scientist Eric Sherman recently recently worked with Slow Roll Chicago cofounder Oboi Reed and analyzed Census data to get a sense of how well […]

What Will It Take to Build a More Equitable Chicago Bike Network?

|
Earlier this month, the League of American bicyclists released a report with a method for using Census info and geographic information system data to measure how well bicycle networks serve communities that have the greatest need for better infrastructure. Using Chicago as the case study, the author concluded that the city’s “planned network” of new […]

Report: In Chicago, Bike Amenities Correlate With Gentrication

|
The idea that new bike infrastructure is linked to of gentrification is nothing new in Chicago. Leaders of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community originally opposed bike lanes on the neighborhood’s Division Street business strip because they believed the city was installing the lanes mostly for the benefit of new, wealthier residents. And while the recently […]