In a time where many cities are still debating the chicken and egg issue of which should come first, bikeshare or bike-friendly infrastructure, Boston is the latest city to take the leap in providing bikeshare to its most underserved communities.
In August this year, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced the expansion of the city’s Hubway bikeshare into the less privileged neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and East Boston. The development shortens the time needed for residents heading downtown from over an hour on foot, bus and then by train, to just 25 minutes by bike.
Boston’s bikeshare allows riders to rent a bike for just minutes or up to a month. A low-income payment option also allows qualifying residents to make unlimited trips by bike for as little as $5 a year. While this does not address the issue of unbanked individuals who cannot provide the credit or debit card used as insurance against stolen or damaged bikes, Boston’s Prescribe-a-Bike program sees that the city’s most needy don’t have an excuse to get back in their cars. It allows doctors to prescribe free bike-share membership to patients who need more exercise without requiring a card.
The combination of programs is exemplary in making bikes accessible more equitably throughout the city, but what about bike infrastructure?
Systems of bike sharing in low-income neighborhoods often seem like a great idea. Idealistically, it opens up doors to better food and healthcare, schools and job opportunities. But when streets remain cramped, as it is in Boston, with unpredictable traffic, confusing signs and road markers without bike lanes, people often remain reluctant to make lifestyle changes. Never mind that bikes are now in their neighborhood, it would be worse to get into an accident without insurance coverage and then lose a job as a sole breadwinner.
Slow Roll Chicago President and Co-Founder Oboi Reed, is among those who do not believe in the “build and they will come” strategy.
He believes that people need enjoyable and memorable experience on bikes first before they’ll consider integrating cycling into their lifestyles. To do this, Slow Roll organizes regular community rides, something more cycling groups around the nation are doing.
Just like Boston, Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. and B-Cycle in Denver are struggling to reach low-income riders despite stepping up efforts to . Aside from language barriers, financial requirements and attitudes, it’s time to consider, with growing efforts at getting people on bikes, that sometimes the reason for not riding is as simple as the possibility of being dismissed for arriving at a minimum wage job perspiring and whole systems need to be changed for change to happen.