Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Boston Hubway Bike share program expands presence in Roxbury neighborhood: insights into transportation equity

WRT bike share, often when stations are placed in low income neighborhoods, they are underused compared to stations in higher income neighborhoods.

Bicycling for transportation is often held to what I think of as a higher standard concerning equity, or the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups--people of color, women, etc.  I say this is unreasonable in some respects because biking is still only in the earliest stages of innovation diffusion in terms of being a mass practice.

I've covered this in various posts, including "Urg: bad studies don't push the discourse or policy forward" and "The problem when you define every outcome as a success, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share in Seattle and Los Angeles as examples."

That being said, I would say that my response in the second paragraph above is the wrong answer, and that the right question is:
Given that bicycling for transportation is still early in the innovation diffusion curve, what needs to be done to bring about greater participation on the part of underrepresented demographics as take up for transportational cycling increases?  
The right answer has four parts: access to bikes + infrastructure + programming + promotion.
I think it's fair to say that a "build it and they will come" approach focusing on constructing infrastructure does lead to a modest increase in cycling for transportation, but it isn't enough to reap the full potential in terms of the number of people biking versus the number of people who state that they are willing to bike for transportation.

Trickle down growth from infrastructure expansion isn't enough.

Fortunately, there are many examples of best practice programs that encourage cycling as transportation for underrepresented populations, ranging from programs at the Community Cycling Center of Portland to "create a commuter" and scads of programs that work with youth such as Neighborhood Bicycle Works in Philadelphia or Recycle-A-Bicycle in New York City, or the Women's Cycling Initiative of the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals.

Photo by Tim Shugrue for Healthy Communities Champions Boston.

The Boston Bikes program of the City of Boston Transportation Department is also a trendsetter in terms of a local government agency systematically developing specific practices designed to encourage and support bicycling take up on the part of low income populations ("Equity as the sixth "E" in bike and pedestrian planning").

But despite the existence of a great number of best practice examples across the country, few planning, parks, or transportation departments are following the Boston Bikes example of combining planning, infrastructure expansion, and programming into an integrated program.  (Doing so is what I call "action planning.")

Flickr photo by Varmazis.

Boston's Hubway bike share program and equity.  With bike share, Boston is a national leader, offering a $5 per year membership--including a helmet--to residents participating in various means-tested economic support programs.  Few programs have yet to follow Boston's lead.

Now the Hubway bike share program is expanding coverage to the Roxbury, Dorchester, and East Boston neighborhoods ("At last, Hubway arrives in some underserved communities" Boston Globe), adding 20 stations and over 200 bikes. From the article:
Walsh announced the 10 new stations in Roxbury and North Dorchester in an event at the Roxbury YMCA. At the conclusion of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Walsh officially opened the YMCA Hubway station by docking a bike designed by Artists for Humanity, a local nonprofit. The bike, which featured a brightly colored frame that depicted famous Roxbury social justice activists like Melnea Cass, Elma Lewis, and Ruth Batson, will stay in public use. 
Bike share station sign promoting expansion to Roxbury, including the financial participation by the Barr Foundation.  Photo courtesy of Artists For Humanity. 
 “These bikes here in Roxbury represent our commitment for our city to be healthy, be an active city, and have safe bike riding in every neighborhood,” Walsh told the crowd. “[To] the people from the community: we heard your voices.” ...
Since its launch, stations have multiplied in areas surrounding downtown Boston, Somerville, Cambridge — and, even before this week, quickly changing parts of Roxbury like Dudley Square. In some of the city’s more marginalized areas, including public transportation islands like Mattapan, and further neighborhoods like Roslindale and West Roxbury, Hubway is still missing.
Access to bikes.  Having a bike is the basic requirement for bicycling as transportation.  A $5/year membership for bike share is far cheaper than owning and maintaining your own bike, and it off loads the cost for storage and the risk of it being stolen.  Of course, this works best if your origin and destination points are close to bike share stations.  It's less effective otherwise.

Infrastructure in terms of bike share means both stations/bikes and on-road or off-road facilities for biking.  This is important because many people are willing to bike, but not in mixed traffic.  With more bicyclists, in part generated by the availability of bike share systems, cities find it easier to justify adding bikeway infrastructure, although it takes a long time to begin to see results.

Programming. Besides the programs of the city's unit, there are a variety of cycling initiatives in the city, including Roxbury Rides, a group focused on helping Roxbury residents take up cycling for transportation.

Promotion and Marketing.  I frequently write about the failure of bike share programs to do adequate promotion to build awareness and use.  Bike share programs in London, Santander Cycle, and Chicago's Divvy are exceptional in that they do a wide variety of innovative programs to constantly build awareness and promote membership in their systems.

Photos courtesy of Artists For Humanity.

For the expansion in Roxbury, Hubway worked with Artists For Humanity, a youth development initiative where students work with artists and designers on the production of commissioned arts and design projects, to create and unveil a specially designed Hubway bike featuring prominent Roxbury personages, and the bike is now part of the city's Hubway fleet.

My only recommendation would be to include more of these bikes in the fleet, as a way to localize the offering somewhat, and to add a degree of wonder to the otherwise ordinary decision of picking a particular bike to use.

In fact, this idea can be expanded, as a way to acknowledge and extend the city's cultural infrastructure.

Pittsburgh has done with some of their bus designs.  See "Getting Around: New buses to sport welcomes in 13 languages," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2003.

Close up of the bicycle design produced by Artists For Humanity for the Roxbury expansion of the Hubway system.  

I like how the rear fender of the new Hubway bikes are also branded with the neighborhood name. This is a practice more bike share programs should consider adopting as a localization strategy.

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