A new study concludes that most U.S. bike-share cities, including Chicago, have provided much better access to stations for whites than African Americans. The report is based on fall 2014 Divvy station location data, but the coverage area has greatly expanded since then to include many more communities of color, so it’s likely that geographic access has significantly improved. However, it’s clear that more work needs to be done in Chicago before the system can be considered truly accessible to African-American and Latino residents.
Julia Ursaki and Lisa Aultman-Hall from the University of Vermont’s Transportation Research Center conducted the study and presented it in January at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting. Ursaki and Aultman-Hall compared bike-share access to population demographics in Chicago, Seattle, Boston, New York City Washington, D.C., and Arlington, VA.
Aultman-Hall told me via email that, for the purposes of this study, the terms “equity” and “equality” had the same meaning. “‘Equity’ is a bike share station in all neighborhoods, in the context of this paper,” she said. “That is also ‘equal.’ We had no measure of need, alternatives or destinations. In a more complex [study], one would also have to consider if the activities or destinations needed were accessible by bicycle from the neighborhood.”
Ursaki and Aultman-Hall also reviewed previous bike-share studies and noted there are at least three main factors cities have taken into consideration when designing bike-share systems: market viability, health indicators, and economics. One such study found that the “primary market” for Philadelphia’s Indego bike-share system existed chiefly in the central business district.
However, a second study found that if the Indego operators were interested in improving public health, they should install bike-share stations in mostly African-American West Philly. A third study asked various bike-share operators how they were trying to address equity. The operators responded that, among other initiatives, they were installing stations and other bike infrastructure in low-income areas.
CDOT spokesperson Mike Claffey told me the department looks at “a variety of equity-related criteria” when choosing station locations, including “median household income, non-white population levels, and educational attainment,” but they don’t consider health indicators such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates.
Ursaki and Aultman-Hall found that, in terms of several socioeconomic factors, Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare stations have the most equitable distribution of the seven cities they studied. That system, which debuted in 2010, is also the oldest. Neighboring Arlington is part of the same system, but its station distribution was reviewed separately.
Divvy launched in summer 2013 with 300 stations. While the initial service area extended about the same distance north and south of the Loop, areas with a higher density of people and destinations received a higher density of stations. Stations were generally placed every quarter mile in these areas, versus every half mile in other areas.