Making Bike-Share Accessible to the 99 Percent

In cities across America, municipal bike-share systems have had a hard time reaching low-income and minority populations. As Chicago plans its new system for next year's launch, the city is developing measures to broaden the demographics of cycling.

John Greenfield looks at how Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) deputy commissioner Scott Kubly, who helped launch Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., and is managing Chicago’s new system, plans to overcome some of the challenges that have prevented bike-share systems in cities like Denver and Washington from reaching those most in need of cheap, efficient transportation.

"While bike sharing has great potential, the credit-card requirement [for membership] and other factors have been obstacles to attracting a diverse membership in other cities," notes Greenfield. "In Denver, where roughly fifty percent of residents are people of color, almost ninety percent of bike-share users are non-Hispanic whites, according to a member survey. 'Our demographic profile is nothing to be proud of, and we know that,' acknowledged Parry Burnap, head of Denver’s program, at a recent urban planning conference. 'We are mostly male, mostly white, mostly wealthy, mostly well educated.'”

So how does Kubly plan to improve access for a more diverse clientele? Strategies include providing training for inner-city youth to develop a workforce that "reflects the diversity of the city and help create a sense of ownership," working with community groups and churches to provide bike share access for people who don’t have credit cards, and distributing kiosk locations equitably.

“My number-one priority is getting a membership that reflects the diversity of the city,” Kubly assured attendees at a recent public meeting in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood. “Since we’re using public dollars, it’s important that the folks who are using the service reflect everybody in the community. It’s a challenge but we’re going to crack it.”

Full Story: Bike share, not white share: can Chicago’s program achieve diversity?

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