Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
According to the diverse group of transportation leaders featured in a new short film.
Bike-share has an equity problem. In Boston, for example, nearly 43 percent of white residents live in proximity to bike-share stations, versus only 7 percent of black residents. In Washington, D.C., about a third of households earning more than $100,000 live nearby bike-share, compared to less than 15 percent of those living below the poverty line.
And yet lower-income households represent the majority of cyclists in America. The benefits of bike-share—its affordability, its compatibility with transit, its healthfulness—should stand to benefit those citizens the most. How can cities abolish the barriers getting in the way?
A short documentary by STREETFILMS explores that question through interviews with about a dozen transportation officials, community leaders, and bike advocates who attended the Better Bike Share conference in Philadelphia this past June. Strikingly, the featured experts are nearly all women of color—perhaps the most marginalized group in bike advocacy. In this film, their wide-ranging expertise offers important perspectives and actionable solutions to the bike-share equity gap.
“When the question [of equity] comes up, it’s often framed as, ‘Who rides bikes, and who doesn’t ride bikes? Are there neighborhoods that don’t use Hubway?’” Najah Casimir, the program manager of Boston’s bike-share system, Hubway, says in the film. “But if you really look at the data, with an understanding of how bike-share works, it’s more about what have we done to make it so that certain stations won’t get used?” The correct level of station density, Casimir adds, is key to ensuring ease of access.
To spread the word about L.A.’s brand-new bike-share program, “we’re going out with street teams on the ground, making sure it’s culturally and linguistically appropriate, really reaching people where they are,” Tamika Butler, the executive director of the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, says. “We don’t want a situation where folks look up and say, ‘Why is this here?’”
Tracey Capers, the executive vice-president of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, discusses bike-share’s potential to transform mobility in the neighborhood: If residents took bikes instead of multiple subways to get to work, she believes they could save time and money, “connecting to services and job opportunities that they may not have otherwise had.”
Balancing bike infrastructure across racial and economic lines isn’t just a challenge for city officials to grapple with. Mainstream bike-advocacy groups have a big role to play in lifting different voices, needs, and desires so that the majority of bike riders are actually represented.
“In a community that has been historically marginalized and disinvested in, equity will take time,” Capers says of Bed-Stuy. “So for now, we’re really trying to uplift a culture that values biking, and showcase that people of color do bike”—a basic fact that somehow still bears repeating.