Category Archives: Sustainable Land-use Practices

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.

Faculty Spotlight: Ralph Buehler, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech

Travel Behavior: An Interdisciplinary and Cross-Cultural Approach to Developing Transport Policy

Ralph Buehler, PhD

Ralph Buehler has dedicated much of his academic career to understanding travel behavior and how it is shaped by the built environment, cultural attitudes and demographics. His research is cross-disciplinary, focusing on policy implications, safety and health outcomes particularly related to the influence of transport policy, land use and socio-demographics on travel behavior as well as supply, demand and regional coordination related to public transport.

These research efforts have generated significant contributions related to bicycle and pedestrian safety, promoting policy considerations around multimodal transportation infrastructure and its relationship to healthy lifestyles and financial efficiency. His 2017 editorial on cycling towards a more sustainable transport future, co-written with John Pucher, PhD, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Urban Planning at Rutgers University, opined that cycling is possibly the most sustainable urban transport mode. It causes virtually no environmental damage, promotes health through physical activity, and is economical in terms of infrastructure and cost to users.

Buehler recently collaborated with Jon Wergin, MURP, Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech, to explore the activities occurring between check-out and check-in of bikes in the Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) program in Washington, DC. Using data from GPS trackers placed on 94 CaBi bikes, the team identified differences in trip attributes between short-term users and monthly or annual CaBi members. With short-term riders primarily riding in parks and long-term bike share members relying more heavily on dedicated bicycle infrastructure and roadways with motorized traffic, the study made recommendations about potential locations for bicycle infrastructure improvements and new bike share stations.

Buehler’s MATS UTC-funded projects reflect his interest in developing sustainable transport practices. These interests led to his MATS UTC collaboration with his VT colleague, Steven Hankey, PhD, assistant professor in urban affairs and planning, Tianjun Lu, a PhD student at VT, and Andrew Mondschein, PhD, assistant professor in urban and environmental planning at the University of Virginia. Together, the team developed a proof-of-concept bicycle and pedestrian traffic count program as a tool to comprehensively monitor non-motorized traffic.

More recently, Buehler received 2017 MATS UTC funding to explore the potential impacts of automated and connected vehicle technology on walking and biking. In an automated environment, it is possible bikers and pedestrians will be safer due to improved braking technologies. However, safety may be reduced due to an over-reliance on automated technology by drivers, but also be pedestrians and cyclists. “If, for example, pedestrians and cyclists assume automated technologies will ‘automatically’ stop for them, then we may see increases in unsafe walking and cycling behaviors such as jay-walking or failing to use designated bike lanes,” said Buehler. Again working with Hankey and Mondschein, the team is using semi-structured interviews with various stakeholders to develop planning guidelines for walking and cycling as society transitions to an automated fleet.

“This latest MATS UTC project represents a significant and exciting shift,” explained Buehler. “Similar to predictive modeling, we’re trying to anticipate future behaviors and impacts. However, there is very little literature or empirical evidence related to the impacts of automated vehicles since their use is still in its infancy. If we can identify potential impacts, synergies and conflicts between automated and connected vehicles on non-motorized modes, then we can start to develop policy recommendations for improving safety and efficient use of roadway space and the built environment.”

Inspired by transport policy initiatives in Western Europe, Buehler also focuses significant attention on developing an international comparative perspective, studying walking, cycling and vehicle dependence primarily in Europe and North America. “By contrasting transport initiatives among different cities and different countries, we can learn valuable policy lessons to inform transportation priorities in the United States,” Buehler explained.

Buehler is the author or co-author of over 45 refereed articles in academic journals, the book City Cycling (MIT Press), as well as reports to federal and local governments, NGOs, and for-profit industry organizations.  He currently serves as Chair of the TRB committee on Bicycle Transportation and is a Faculty Fellow with the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech’s Alexandria Center.

He received his PhD in Planning and Public Policy from Rutgers University. His PhD dissertation was honored with the Barclay Gibbs Jones Award for Best Dissertation in Planning 2008. Buehler may be contacted at ralphbu@vt.edu.

 

Select publications:

Buehler, R. and J. Pucher. 2017. “Have Walking and Cycling Become Safer? Recent Evidence from High-Income Countries, with a Focus on the United States and Germany,” American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 107, No. 2, pp. 281–287.

Buehler, R., J. Pucher and A. Altshuler. 2017. “Vienna’s Path to Sustainable Transport,“ International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, Vol. 11, No. 4, 257-271.

Buehler, R., J. Pucher, R. Gerike and T. Goetschi. 2017. “Reducing car dependence in the heart of Europe: Lessons from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland,” Transport Reviews, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp 4-28.

Buehler, R., W. Jung and A. Hamre. 2015. “Planning for Sustainable Transport in Germany and the U.S.: A comparison of the Washington, DC and Stuttgart Regions,” International Planning Studies, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp.292-312.

Hankey, S.,  T.Lu, A. Mondschein and R. Buehler. 2017. “Spatial Models of Active Travel in Small Communities: Merging the Goals of Traffic Monitoring and Direct-Demand Modeling,” Journal of Transport and Health, Vol. 7, Part B, pp. 149-159.

Wergin, J. and R. Buehler. Accepted for publication. “Where do Bikeshare Bikes Actually Go? An Analysis of Capital Bikeshare Trips Using GPS Data.” Transportation Research Record.