Bicycle Justice or Just Bicycles? Analyzing Equity in Baltimore's Bike Share Program

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Department of Transportation and Urban Infrastructure at Morgan State University
Bike share systems have become a common feature of the modern urban landscape and provide residents and visitors with an active transportation mode. Yet these systems have sustained equity-focused criticism for serving a narrow demographic band of residents and visitors, while others lack access and face barriers to usage. The City of Baltimore, Maryland, launched a bike share system in 2016. This study evaluates Baltimore’s new system from an equity-focused lens using two complementary approaches. The first approach, which is a GIS-based equity gap analysis, develops a population-density-normalized Bike Equity Index to quantitatively assess the spatial distribution of the city’s bicycle infrastructure supply and how it serves (or doesn’t serve) Baltimore’s transit-dependent and environmental justice communities. The second analytic orientation, which applies a user and barrier analysis, utilizes survey data to identify the low-equity groups and the variables that limit (or don’t limit) their demand for the city’s bike share program. When combined, the two perspectives—one top-down and the other bottom-up—present a more comprehensive picture and nuanced understanding of the current system’s equity performance. The research findings demonstrate that Baltimore Bike Share infrastructure is unevenly distributed across the city’s many communities and is undersupplied in areas with residents who are transit-dependent. Furthermore, the results support claims of a demographic mismatch between current bike share system users and the general population. The communities underrepresented among Baltimore Bike Share users are less educated, lower-income, non-whites, Hispanics, and females. The research indicates that females express concern over certain barriers to accessing and using Baltimore Bike Share, including how to use the system, personal safety, helmet use, harassment, and hygiene. No significant barriers were identified for the other underrepresented demographic groups. To enhance the equity of the system, the research team recommends that the City of Baltimore prioritize bike share system expansion into the neighborhoods east and west of the downtown corridor. A robust community outreach strategy that targets underrepresented populations is also recommended and should include initiatives such as a grassroots bike share ambassador program and organized community rides. The bike share docking stations can also be leveraged for their advertising potential and should contain marketing materials that speak directly to underrepresented communities.
Baltimore, bike share, equity, urban mobility, gap analysis, bike equity index, equity analysis, survey research, policy analysis