Three ways bikeshare can counteract, not reinforce, DC's disparities


Photo by George Rose/Getty Images.

Bikesharing has gained popularity in US cities as concerns about health, congestion, and climate change have increased. In 2010, the DC Department of Transportation introduced the first city-operated bikesharing system in North America. Since then, Capital Bikeshare users have generated millions of rides, but use and station placement varies around the city.

The DC Department of Transportation clearly considers equity in its bikeshare development plan, and the department used online crowdsourcing to allow residents to vote on new station placement. But is bikesharing reinforcing DC’s existing disparities, or is it effectively acting to reverse them?

To answer this question, we need data. Unlike many privately owned, dockless bike or scooter sharing services, Capital Bikeshare makes anonymized ridership data available online. We focused our analysis only on registered members (who account for three-quarters of the total trips in DC, compared with casual nonmember users) because these riders are more likely to be local residents.

With funding support from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, we took a closer look at Capital Bikeshare’s potential to address the city’s racial and economic disparities. We placed the 2017 data in the context of DC’s socioeconomic characteristics to identify challenges and opportunities for developing bikeshare equitably. Our analysis revealed two primary challenges.

1. Station placement isn’t equitable and follows patterns of existing infrastructure.

DC has 276 Capital Bikeshare stations, distributed in 118 of 179 census tracts (66 percent of tracts in DC). The density of bikeshare stations varies across neighborhoods. Census tracts with the most stations are generally near popular destinations for tourists and residents, like the National Mall.

Areas with higher shares of white residents, lower poverty rates, higher income, and higher college attainment tend to have more stations available. On average, tracts in the top quartile in terms of share of white population and income level have more than twice the amount of bike share stations available, compared to tracts in the bottom quartile

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