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Weekly Trend: Mobilizing Bike-Share Systems for Social Change

In the United States, biking is becoming increasingly popular as new biking infrastructure and bike-share programs pop up around the country. Emulating the intricate and efficient bike networks that exist in European countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, entrepreneurs, as well as larger companies are attempting to transform our automobile dominated cities into bike-friendly environments. Changing cities to be better equipped to support an avid bike culture boast many benefits from improved health for bikers to lessening our carbon footprint.

Transforming cities in order to encourage biking could potentially impact social inequalities that persist in the United States as well. Income gaps and institutionalized racism are two issues that are pervasive yet often overlooked in American society today. Bike-share programs have the potential to make a meaningful impact on these issues.

Although bike-share companies, such as Hubway, Citi Bike and Capital Bikeshare, have seen considerable success in the past few years, these programs have struggled to reach populations of lower socio-economic status and minorities. Research shows that low socio-economic bikers are significantly underrepresented in bike-share programs in the Twin Cities, while residents of higher income levels make up a majority of bike-share members. This trend is clear in other cities as well and begs the question: How can bike-share programs better reach low-income residents and thus further promote this alternative form of transportation?

Some fundamental problems such as requiring a credit card to become a member and a lack of bike-share stations in low-income neighborhoods are contributing factors to this inequity. Similarly, biking infrastructure, such as shielded bike lanes and lights specifically for cyclists, is often concentrated in wealthier regions rather than poorer neighbors and again discourages citizens of lower socio-economic status to utilize bike-share programs.

Why is this important? For starters, the lack of diversity in bike-share participants is yet another example of an institutionalized form of inequality in the United States. Furthermore, utilizing bike-share programs and promoting bike culture could have immense benefits for society as a whole; however, without the participation of low-income residents, biking as a valid form of transportation is unlikely to become ubiquitous.

Bike-share programs have the potential to bring about significant and positive social change. More economical than cars, bikes can essentially “level the playing field” and enable people of all economic backgrounds to reach any given destination. Programs that help low-income people by subsidizing the cost of bike-share memberships as well as establishing more bike-share stations and better biking infrastructure in poorer neighborhoods are a few ways in which this inequality can be minimized.

Bike-share programs have the potential to reach people of all socio-economic statuses and change the way we think about transportation. Equitable biking infrastructure and increased bike-share stations in poor neighborhoods could drastically increase the number of minority cyclists on the road. Mobilizing those of low socio-economic status will be just as important as rallying participation from the middle and upper class as innovators look for opportunities to better our society and change our cities by promoting bike culture.

Carolyn Peyser

Carolyn is a senior at Tufts University majoring in Sociology and minoring in Communications and Media Studies.