Bike sharing programs in Chicago, NYC, Boston, Washington D.C. skew white

The Chicago Tribune looked at the locations of the new Divvy bike sharing stations in Chicago and found overall they were more accessible to white residents:

By design, the Emanuel administration’s freshly launched Divvy bike-sharing network is centered in crowded neighborhoods. But one byproduct of the strategy is that the new transportation alternative is far more convenient for white residents than those who are black or brown, a Tribune analysis shows…

Federal and local taxpayers bankrolled $22.5 million in seed money for the bicycle system, but to thrive and eventually expand it needs to quickly attract a solid customer base and demonstrate financial viability…

Nearly half of all whites in the city live within a short walking distance — a quarter mile or less — of spots the city has designated for bike rental and drop-off, according to the analysis, which overlaid census data on the locations announced for Divvy stations.

By comparison, fewer than 19 percent of Latinos and nearly 16 percent of African-Americans live within a quarter mile of the bike stations, the data show…

In New York, nearly three times the size of Chicago, about 20 percent of white residents but only 8 percent of blacks and Latinos live within a quarter mile of a docking station for that city’s new Citi Bike system, the Tribune found. The two-year-old Hubway system in the Boston area puts a docking station within a quarter mile of 44 percent of the white population, but just 26 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of blacks.

The proximity gap closes somewhat in the Washington, D.C., area, where the Capital Bikeshare system places a docking station within easy one-quarter mile reach of half of all white residents, 44 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of African-Americans, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

A recent user survey released by Capital Bikeshare concluded that not only are 80 percent of the responding customers white, but nearly six in 10 are men, nearly two-thirds are under 35 years of age, 95 percent have an undergraduate college degree and 56 percent have a postgraduate degree.

Are bike sharing programs a new strategy for attracting or retaining young professional males in cities? Is bike sharing primarily a program aimed at the Creative Class and tourists? This would not be surprising as plenty of cities are looking to expand their downtown populations of young professionals.

It would be interesting to hear more about the process that went into locating the bike stations in Chicago. How exactly did the city try to balance population figures with economic figures? Now that I think about, we tend not to hear such insider information from Chicago…

Another thought: why not also map the bike locations by social class? Even for whites, are the bikes located more in upper-end neighborhoods or are they aimed at the working class?

Inequality reproduced in new NYC bike sharing program?

An early report from the new bike sharing program in New York City suggests it might be reproducing existing inequalities:

And yet this was hardly the most dispiriting aspect of the whole adventure. The line for helmets was very long, and yet few of the people I spoke to were actually residents of the Rutgers Houses or any of the neighboring public housing. I did, however, meet a svelte Argentine woman in running clothes who had come from the Upper East Side. There were also two young women who taught at Bard High School Early College and lived in brownstone Brooklyn, and a woman named Barbara Becker in the company of two sons who, she said when I inquired, attend Friends Seminary in Manhattan, where annual tuition is roughly 296 times the price of an expensive bike helmet (and 1,850 times the price of a helmet you can buy at Han’s Market, a convenience store next to the Clark Street kiosk that has quickly expanded its business from milk, soda and frozen foods to biking gear).

Raulo Jeffers did live in the Rutgers Houses, as he has for 38 years. He was waiting to get a helmet for a bike he already owned. The price of annual membership to Citi Bike is $95, but the city was giving a $35 discount to residents of public housing and other low-income New Yorkers. Even with the reduction, the price was too high, he believed. “People here don’t have a lot of money,” he said. Although more than 400,000 people live in the city’s public housing, only 200 people have signed up for the discounted membership, out of a total enrollment of more than 33,000, according to the Transportation Department. A spokesman for the department said that some public housing residents may have joined at the full price.

Another man in line, Alejandro Brown, a student from the South Bronx, said he was dismayed that the bike share program had not made it “above what I call the 96th Street border.”

It is still early in the program so these issues may still be ironed out. But, should we be too surprised when those who already have more social and economic capital are more in position to take advantage of a new program that also plays into middle- and upper-class sensibilities such as being green and getting exercise? For all of the talk of bike sharing in European cities, I haven’t seen much comment about how it interacts there with social inequalities. Perhaps this is a bigger issue all around…