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How five cities are expanding bike share to underserved communities

Making car-free options available, and more welcoming, to all riders

The Indego bikeshare system in Philadelphia has made rider equity a focus of expansion over the years.

When news last week broke that scooter trips had surpassed docked bike-share trips last year, it seemed like confirmation of a big shift in car-free transit. Scooters are here to stay. But digging a little deeper, ridership data from last year also demonstrated a growing desire across the board for moving through cities without cars. While dockless scooters netted an impressive 38.5 million rides in 2018, docked bike share’s usage also rose, hitting 36.5 million rides.

As these options proliferate, they challenge cities to be more accommodating, both in terms of the ways streets and curbs are planned and designed, and their degree of accessibility. Are operators doing enough to make sure everyone, regardless of ability, age, income, and neighborhood, can access these new ways to get around? Have stations and infrastructure been set up to maximize access and make it easier to connect to additional transit options?

Curbed spoke to National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) to find some examples of cities making significant and sustained efforts at helping more riders access shared bikes. Here are some of the systems helping get underserved communities on bikes and out of cars.

Boston, Massachusetts: A boom in bike-share stations


Last year, the Hub had a bike share renaissance. It wasn’t just a result of new players entering the market, though the addition of dockless options such as Lime and Ant Bicycles added many more options to Boston streets. The flagship Bluebikes system opened 50 new stations and plans to add more than 30 this year, aiming to put a bike-share option within a short walk of 85 percent of Boston residents. But that’s not the end of it. Mayor Marty Walsh asked for $1 million more in his 2020 budget to spend on station expansion in outer neighborhoods, aiming to make it easier for commuters to choose bike share.

Ithaca, New York: Targeted programs to take senior riders out of retirement

Age shouldn’t be a barrier for bike ridership. In this upstate New York community, the local nonprofit Bike Walk Tompkins (named after the county) decided to focus on expanding available bike share options to seniors and older adults. Last year, in partnership with Lime bikes, which runs a dockless system around Ithaca, organizers recruited bike ambassadors to focus on older residents, working in collaboration with an area senior center.

By offering a range of vehicle options, including tandem, recumbent, cargo bikes, and even tricycles, the group helped riders regain the confidence to get on two or three wheels for the first time in decades. In addition, the program took the special needs of seniors seriously. Rider bikes, or modified cycles with the pedals removed, allowed inexperienced or intimidated riders to gingerly get used to being on two wheels, while cautious and careful volunteers helped address the new riders’ serious concerns about falls and safety.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Making bilingual outreach a priority

Philadelphia’s Indego system has been held up as a model for making cycling more inclusive, with a number of stations in lower-income neighborhoods and credit-free payment options available for riders. Brenda Hernández, bike share liaison for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, saw another opportunity to broaden the reach of the city’s Indego system: kickstarting more conversations with Spanish-speaking riders.

Her push to include more bilingual programming, including classes, surveys, and a forthcoming bilingual station guide, hopes to bridge the gap and help organizers better understand their riders. They’re already learned that roughly 75 percent of Spanish-speaking women interested in riding want to use bikes to take their kids to school, another new community that can benefit from car-free transit options.

Detroit, Michigan: Adaptive cycle share to reach a diverse array of users

Riding cross town by yourself in a standard bike-share bike isn’t a big deal. But what if you’re trying to take home a few bags of groceries, or maybe have a disability that prevents you from using a standard bike? Detroit’s MoGo system, seeking to broaden its reach beyond standard rides, created an adaptive cycle share pilot last year to offer a more diverse fleet of options. Users can go online, rent larger cargo bikes, recumbent bikes, or other atypical options, and pick up their rides in a storage unit outside local bike shop Wheelhouse Detroit. Currently in data-collection mode, the pilot offers hope that more iterative processes can help make for more inclusive options.

Memphis, Tennessee: Launching bike share with community buy-in

When this sprawling Tennessee city launched its first bike-share system last May, the optimism over connecting neighborhoods collided with the reality of trying to knit together a city larger than Detroit with limited stations and resources. The solution for Memphis’s Explore Bike Share has been connecting with the community.

The Big Roll-Out launch event on May 23 featured teams of riders taking new bikes to neighborhood stations as a way to broadcast that bike share had arrived. By launching with a network of community ambassadors and hosting numerous parties and community events in the first few months of service, Explore exceeded initial rider expectations and ridership projections.