As sustainability becomes a popular goal among politicians, many city governments have forged partnerships with bike share programs. These programs are touted as an excellent way to limit car emissions while simultaneously providing a healthy mode of transportation for urban populations.

Most of the initial research and analysis have shown if implemented safely — often with bike lanes — bike share programs provide numerous health and environmental benefits. According to a 2010 study from Environmental Health Perspectives, incorporating cycling into your commute, as opposed to driving, could extend your lifespan by three to 14 months. When compared to cars, bicycle construction produces one-tenth of the volume of carbon emissions.

While the benefits of bike-sharing are well understood, many have questioned who bike share programs serve. This past summer, New York Communities for Change published a report indicating over 75 percent of impoverished communities fall outside of Citi Bike’s — New York City’s flagship bike share program — coverage area. The severe lack of coverage in New York City might seem like an extreme example of inequitable access for under-resourced communities of color, but bike share segregation is a frequent feature of even the blackest American cities.

Chicago, IL

The Divvy bike share system has served the city of Chicago since the summer of 2013. A system that began with only 75 stations has now grown to maintain 609 active stations throughout the city.

Divvy Bicycle Stations - All - Map

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A quick examination of the map of Divvy’s active stations reveals relatively few bike share stations exist in black Chicago neighborhoods. To be exact, only 120 of the 609 — roughly 20 percent — active stations in Chicago are located in black neighborhoods, despite black people comprising over 30 percent of the city’s population. This means approximately 80 percent of Divvy’s bike share stations are accessible to white Chicagoans, many of whom are in far higher income brackets than their black counterparts.

This geographic distribution of bike sharing stations is likely to exacerbate issues of income inequality. The monthly fare for a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Pace Pass is $105, while an annual bike subscription to Divvy is $99. That amounts to almost $1,200 in annual savings, without considering the healthcare savings from the benefits of both exercise and air quality improvement.

Los Angeles, CA

Since 2016, Metro Bike Share has provided bike sharing services throughout the entire Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. Metro Bike Share operates 153 stations over an area the size of Rhode Island. Within its operating radius, only two stations exist in neighborhoods with sizable black populations: Exposition Park and Adams-Normandie.

This means only two stations, containing 15 and 11 bikes respectively, are expected to serve the approximate 800,000 black residents in the LA Metropolitan Area.

Urban sprawl and the high rate of car ownership in Los Angeles County are understandable reasons why bike share stations in the LA Metro Area may not be as prevalent as those in similar cities. Still, the racial inequity of access in LA is startling. The lack of access to bikes and over-dependence on driving in LA’s black communities is likely a strong contributor to the prevalence of respiratory illness in black Angelinos.

LA’s tragic history of vehicular air pollution has led to the implementation of numerous statewide emissions standards, but it seems this environmental conscientiousness was not extended to LA’s low-income communities of color.

New Haven, CT

With just over 130,000 people, New Haven is by far the smallest city on this list — though it boasts a black population of 32 percent. New Haven is equipped with 31 'Bike New Haven' bike share stations. Despite only distributing 31 stations, Bike New Haven is far better at providing bicycle access to its black residents than its national counterparts. Nine stations (29 percent) are in black New Haven neighborhoods.

One reason why Bike New Haven might generate better bike accessibility is because it is not the only bike share program in New Haven. The community is home to Yale University, which employs its own bike share service, Nao. Since most of New Haven's white population is located in Downtown New Haven, much of which is university property, it is very likely most of New Haven's white residents rely on Nao.

Ironically, the existence of Nao possibly allows Bike New Haven to service black residents more equitably because white New Haveners effectively utilize their own program. Using Bike New Haven can benefit black New Haveners by allowing them to save almost $700 per year instead of relying on monthly bus passes from CT Transit.

New York City, NY

Since 2013, Citi Bike has been the premier bike sharing service in Jersey City and New York City — specifically Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. With 794 stations in New York City, Citi Bike is by far the largest bike sharing service in the country. Given that New York City is the largest city, by population, in America the size of Citi Bike's operations is understandable. Its lack of representative service, however, is not.

With just over two million black New Yorkers, New York City has the largest number of black people in America — almost a quarter of the city’s total population — but only 134 Citi Bike stations — about 17 percent — are located in black neighborhoods. Furthermore, every Citi Bike station located in a black neighborhood is also located in a gentrified or gentrifying neighborhood.

As Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) fares increase, amid suboptimal service, Citi Bike access could be a boon to the financial, physical, and environmental well-being of black neighborhoods — particularly those further from Manhattan. Citi Bike appears to acknowledge its access issues by providing heavily discounted subscriptions for New Yorkers who qualify for SNAP, as well as those who are residents of the New York City Housing Authority. These fee initiatives, however, have not been partnered with significant station expansion into black neighborhoods where Citi Bike access could potentially save black New Yorkers over $1,300 per year.

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia is the largest city in the U.S. with a majority black population. This could lead one to expect Indego Bike Share would distribute bike stations in a demographically equitable fashion throughout Philly. Sadly, even in Philly where 43 percent of the population is black, only 24 percent of the 137 active Indego bike stations are in black neighborhoods.

This percentage of available stations is far better than any city of comparable population, but is still far from representative of the racial geography of the city. Despite its gaps in station coverage, Indego has been receptive to community criticism and demographic accessibility recommendations. Activists in Philly have pushed Indego to expand its services into neighborhoods of color, and have even succeeded in leveraging Indego to become the only bike share provider in the country to allow its users to make cash payments.

Allowing cash payments is imperative in bike sharing racial equity. Compared to white Americans, Americans of color often lack access to credit and debit cards. Cash payments allow more black Philadelphians to accrue bike share savings that come from transitioning away from SEPTA service. Indego’s rate for a monthly pass is, at most, $17 whereas a SEPTA Monthly TransPass costs $96.

Why Aren't There More Bikes?

Urban planners and community activists have lobbed this question at local politicians and bike share executives. Some people point to higher crime rates in black communities as an impedance to station expansion into black communities. Interestingly, theft and vandalism of bike share bicycles are very common in majority white European countries with large-scale bike share programs. This lack of bike share equity is likely the result of black neighborhoods often being viewed as being less valuable than white ones.

While there are activist groups throughout the country pushing back against this narrative, we will have to wait to see if bike sharing programs will evolve to accurately reflect the demographics of the cities they serve.