Last semester, 39 students in the U’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree program explored ways to integrate a Minneapolis neighborhood—the North Loop—into the sharing economy. Located just north of downtown in the Warehouse Historic District, the neighborhood has experienced revitalization and increasing property values in recent years. In the class (Public Affairs 5211: Urban Land Use Planning), student teams created 13 proposals on topics such as parking reallocation and walkability.
This guest post, written by three students in the course, highlights their work related to bike sharing and equity. More information about the course, including a Q&A with instructor Fernando Burga, is available in the February issue of Catalyst.
Guest post by Frank Alarcon, Chris Kartheiser, and Alicia Valenti
As cities across the U.S.—from college towns to major urban centers—have introduced bike sharing into their mix of transportation options, elected officials, advocacy organizations, and social justice groups are raising questions about equity. Racial segregation and disparities continue to plague U.S. cities, and people are rightfully questioning whether bike sharing combats, perpetuates, or has little effect on these challenges. At the center of the conversation around bike sharing and equity are two questions: (1) What is the purpose of bike sharing? and (2) Who is bike sharing intended to serve?
We interrogated these questions for our final project in our Land-Use Planning course, taught by Fernando Burga, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. With a focus on Minneapolis-St. Paul’s nonprofit Nice Ride bike sharing system, we examined the location of bike sharing stations in relation to demographic and economic data. We observed a higher concentration of Nice Ride stations in affluent, predominantly white areas such as the North Loop and downtown Minneapolis than in areas with higher concentrations of people of color and low-income households. We also noticed that while stations in the North Loop are often located adjacent to a mixture of businesses and residential buildings, stations in North Minneapolis tended to abut social service institutions but not residences—potentially limiting the usefulness of bike sharing in that area.
This being said, Nice Ride has a explicit and firm commitment to maintaining at least some level of service in less prosperous parts of the cities. Specifically, Nice Ride offers a program dubbed the “Orange Bike program” in the North Minneapolis and Frogtown areas to build relationships in those communities and introduce community members to bike sharing. As such, we believe Nice Ride’s record with respect to equity is mixed and reflects the realities of population density, bike share ridership, the racial and economic segregation of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and funding for bike share programs.
Our project also included an examination of an important report entitled Bicycle Citations and Related Arrests, commissioned in 2016 by the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. The report examined bike-related police reports and concluded that it is very likely that people of color are stopped more often than white people for bike-related offenses such as biking on the sidewalk or biking at night without lights. The report asserts that “‘Biking while Black’—the experience of being racially profiled on a bike—is a documented issue and may keep people of color from bicycling.” This is a powerful finding that tells us that bike share equity is about much more than the placement of bike sharing stations—rather, it is an issue that is inextricably connected to institutional racism in American society and possible disparities in bike infrastructure between affluent and disadvantaged areas.
Ultimately, our project serves as more of a starting point for further research than a definitive assessment of bike share equity in Minneapolis-St. Paul. We conclude with a handful of recommendations for making bike share more equitable: improve bicycle infrastructure in areas of concentrated poverty, reduce financial barriers to utilization of bike sharing, emphasize community partnerships in areas of concentrated poverty, and support efforts to eliminate institutional racism in policing and other aspects of governance. Lastly, we urge people to view bike sharing as a central component of a region’s public transportation system whose primary goal is to improve mobility, particularly of those with the least privilege in society.