Bicycle Justice or Just Bicycles: Analyzing Equitable Access to Baltimore’s Bike Sharing Program

Baltimore Bike Share Program. Photo Credit: Maryland Daily Record

As a member of the Baltimore Bike Share Program (BBSP) technical advisory board, Celeste Chavis, PhD, saw first-hand the benefits and challenges of administering a bike share program in a complex urban environment. While the recently launched program offers an alternative transportation mode for commuting, recreation and tourism, there is concern that the initial 50 docking stations are not equitably placed for access by underrepresented populations.

Chavis, Assistant Professor in the Department of Transportation and Urban Infrastructure Studies at Morgan State University, envisioned using BBSP trip data and land use to determine whether diverse populations, defined by socio-economic and racial demographics, are afforded access to the new system. A mutual colleague introduced her to Philip Barnes, PhD, Associate Policy Scientist in the Institute for Public Administration at the University of Delaware. Chavis and Barnes quickly recognized their shared interest in sustainable community development. With their combined research and public policy expertise, they joined forces to evaluate the BBPS, spotlighting ‘justice’ as a core urban land use and design principle.

The MATS UTC-funded project is tackling the issue from several different perspectives. The team has undertaken a review of best practice examples of bike share programs in other cities where program design and implementation have delivered equitable outcomes. “The Brooklyn Citi Bike Program is a wonderful example of a community advocacy strategy that builds ridership from the ground level, educating diverse populations about the cost, logistics and safety of the program,” explained Barnes. It’s just one of nearly a dozen city bike share programs evaluated by the team.

With support from the Southeast Community Development Corporation, the team recently conducted two focus groups to gain additional demographic and perception-based information among Spanish and English-speaking populations. Although results have not yet been fully analyzed, initial indications suggest the city’s Hispanic populations may not even be aware of the bike share program. Many in this Hispanic sample set have negative perceptions of the safety of the program and do not consider biking a suitable form of personal transportation.

GIS-based big data analysis is being used to develop and execute a novel justice-centered methodological framework. The analysis will use “intercept surveys” with occasional and membership riders as well as GPS tracking data from individual bike trips to better understand user demographics, attitudes toward bike share usage and actual bike share activities. “We’re learning a lot about ridership and implications for future expansion,” said Chavis. “Weekday spikes in the morning and afternoon suggest bikes are being used for commuting and ‘last mile’ connections to other forms of transit. On weekends, we are seeing significant bike share use near tourist areas and the waterfront. Further analysis will help us to identify locations in Baltimore where future phases of BBSP could offer improved access to underrepresented populations as well as educational opportunities to improve awareness about the benefits of the program.”

In addition to developing recommendations for expansion of the city’s bicycle infrastructure, the team expects to offer policy analysis evaluating the tradeoffs between station locations and public policy alternatives to improve the equity of BBSP. The results of the policy analysis will provide concrete recommendations to land use planners and decision-makers as they use the city’s limited financial resources to grow BBSP within a justice-related context.

“The results of this research will be useful to the City of Baltimore,” stated Barnes. “This type of interdisciplinary research can serve as a model for bringing engineering and policy together to serve communities and create equitable access to transportation infrastructure.”

For more information, contact Celeste Chavis at celeste.chavis@morgan.edu or Philip Barnes at pbarnes@udel.edu.