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Bike-Share Programs Extend into Underserved Neighborhoods

Sherrell Dorsey headshotWords by Sherrell Dorsey
Leadership & Transparency
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Chicago, New York, Boston and D.C. are just a few of more than 50 U.S. municipalities boasting bike-share programs that help citizens and tourists ride around town. These rent-a-bike models encourage planet-friendly travel, increased utilization of existing public transit options and neighborhood exploration, all the while generating additional revenue for cities.

When it comes to ensuring that the benefits of bike-share programs extend to populations that would otherwise be underserved or priced out of the opportunity, the PeopleForBikes Foundation is strategically aligning its advocacy work with communities and governments to guide both how and where these programs extend into neighborhoods in where they are needed most.

Recently, PeopleForBikes worked with the city of Philadelphia through the Better Bike Share Partnership to launch the city’s first bike-share program, Indego. Through the partnership, the City of Brotherly Love was administered funds to implement 20 dock stations in underserved communities. PeopleforBikes plans to carry out similar projects by administering $900,000 in grant funding over three years to bike share operators, cities and local nonprofits to help U.S. cities implement strategies to increase bike-share use in underserved communities.

“The benefits of a bike-share program are numerous,” said Martha Roskowski, PeopleForBikes vice president of local innovation. “It can inexpensively bridge the 'last mile gap' between a commuter’s public transit and their final destination. It also provides visitors an exciting new way to explore a city, gets people who might not otherwise ride onto [a] bicycle and is environmentally friendly. Now our work is to make sure the benefits of bike sharing are available to everyone in the city.”

Biking and transportation disproportionality


Disproportionately, some of the most recognized bike-share programs in the country have been met with controversy for lack of equitable distribution in core neighborhoods characterized by less affluence.

In predominately lower-income black and Latino communities, transportation expenditures or lack of access could spell a variety of challenges, including: impact of inadequate transportation options that prevent people from getting to work on time or being able to get to a job interview a considerable distance away; unreliable transportation that increases school tardiness; and inaccessible bus or train routes that prevent effective access to healthy grocery stores.

In other words: Communities with statistically recognized transportation issues benefit the most from having a bike-share option in their neighborhood.

This issue is examined in a recently released bike equity report by PeopleForBikes and the Alliance for Biking & Walking. The research conducted revealed several key insights:


  • The lowest-income households bike the most

  • The lower the income, the less you drive

  • Hispanic people bike for recreation the most

  • People of color bike for transportation most

  • People of color care more about protected bike lanes

According to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, access to affordable and reliable transportation widens opportunity and is essential to addressing poverty, unemployment, and other equal opportunity goals such as access to good schools and health care services.

Models of equity across cities


“In the past 10 years bike sharing has gone from a kooky idea to a new reality to an essential part of the transportation network in many cities,” Kate Fillin-Yeh, the bike-share program director at the National Association of City Transportation Officials, said in a press release. “As cities look to balance their transportation priorities and budgets, there has been an increasing demand for information on how to get the most out of bike share systems and how to make bike share benefit the most people.”

Innovation is a standing value that many cities have continued to examine as they iterate on the quality and equity of their bike-share programs. Increasing opportunity for all citizens is a next step in configuring models that benefit diverse communities.

For instance, CitiBike in New York City, which launched in 2013, recently extended their program to include bike stations that will serve public housing communities. A discount annual membership rate of $60 per year is available for lower-income residents, compared to the standard annual rate of $149.

Last spring, Boston’s Hubway program partnered with Boston Medical Center to offer lower-income riders at risk for obesity-related health issues a $5 membership with a doctor’s prescription.

Silver bullet vs. one side of the equation


Certainly, one can argue that increasing access to bike-share programs and pushing planners to increase protected bike lanes to encourage bicycling as a transportation option are viable solutions in removing barriers for lower-income residents to have access to adequate transportation options.

However, analyzing the data and metrics of usage in these neighborhoods over a period of time will be key to understanding how, why and when individuals ride and use the systems provided. Subsequently, this data collection can serve as a basis for deeper insight on how to produce rider curriculum, encourage safe riding behaviors, and assess how these programs are increasing quality of life and revitalization in communities in which programming seeks to be of service.

Image via Indego on Facebook

Sherrell Dorsey headshotSherrell Dorsey

Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology, and digital inclusion.

Read more stories by Sherrell Dorsey