Inequities in allocation of bike infrastructure investments

By Saumya Jain

The pressing need for safer active transportation infrastructure cannot be overlooked anymore, with 2019 being the deadliest year of the century for pedestrians and cyclists. Although federal spending on active transportation increased from $6 million to $835 million from 1990 to 2017, equity advocates claim that these investments are mostly improving conditions for whiter and wealthier areas of communities. A recent study that looked at the intersection of bicycle infrastructure and socioeconomic status of residents in 22 U.S. cities strengthens this claim.

The researchers conducted block-level analyses based on existing bike infrastructure data collected by the respective cities over a span of four years. On comparing the coverage of bike infrastructure with sociodemographic characteristics, the researchers found the investments to be serving areas with higher socioeconomic status, higher education attainment, and lower proportions of Hispanic residents. Even after adjusting for cycling demand, most of the equity-gap associations persisted. The researchers observed lower education attainment and predominantly Hispanic areas as the most underserved. Though the correlation with respect to higher proportions of black residents was not as strong as that for predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, the researchers did observe a considerable gap in infrastructure.

The results from this study give a strong empirical backing to the claims of disparities in bike access. It also highlights the need for rethinking and reevaluating investment strategies to incorporate a more just and equal distribution of accessibility improvements across diverse communities.

Saumya Jain is a Senior Associate at SSTI.