Why Don’t More Blacks Use DC’s Bike Share?

Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation, January 13, 2012

Virginia Tech has just released a study of casual users of Washington, DC’s bike share system, and the numbers on African American usage are startlingly low.

The study, based on 400 surveys of those who buy either 24-hour or 5-day passes, shows that just 5 percent of such users are “black/African American.”

Caucasians represent 78 percent of casual users.

That contrasts starkly with the population of the District, which is 50 percent black, and 34 percent white.

(Hispanic use is also low, but the Hispanic population of DC is only 9 percent.)

Ralph Buehler, the VT Assistant Professor who oversaw the study, cautioned that their sample only looked at casual users. “Many of those users are tourists,” Buehler said. “It’s not surprising that would be more heavily white than the population of DC.”

But Capital Bikeshare’s own numbers for annual membership look even worse. According to CaBi data from 2010, cited in the report, just two percent of annual members are black.

Chris Holben, DC’s Bikesharing Project Manager, tells us more recent data shows an increase. African American participation doubled by the end of 2011—but it’s still only at four percent.

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Holben says DDOT is working to address the problem. One barrier to entry, he says, is the need to have a credit card to join the system. DDOT is participating in a “Bank on DC” program to get bank cards to the “unbanked,” a population that typically tends to be more black than the general population. {snip}

Holben also suggests that geography may play a role. The heavily African American neighborhood of Anacostia is separated from the rest of DC by a long bridge, it’s more hilly than other parts of DC, and highways further serve to cut off bike access.

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