Just Read: Bike sharing: review of evidence on impacts including health and equity

This is an evidence review of the impact of Bike sharing, which is now a generally-loved phenomenon in 800 cities with a fleet of over 900,000 bicycles, including our system in Washington, DC, Capital Bikeshare (@bikeshare). I think loved in DC both because of the application of technology to support a healthier society and availability of open data to the community to study the impacts.

From the perspective of health and equity, this is a worthwhile read. I’ve been a little bit of a student of these issues which I’ve blogged about previously: Photo Friday: What a difference open data plus 5 miles makes in understanding people’s health choices: Capital Bikeshare. It’s nice that some data is emerging.

Here are a few things I learned

  • Equity. Bike sharing is mostly utilized by white, male, affluent, more educated people. I wanted to dig into the gender differences because it is oft quoted that bike sharing is more likely to be used by women compared to bicycling. Part of this is geography in the placement of stations, part is financial hurdles to join and use systems. The equity issue is significant enough that there isn’t enough coverage in this article, just links to studies to learn more. So I’ll learn more (Thanks to Deborah Bey, PhD (@Geekyblkgirl) for providing me with lots of leads, most notably Better Bikeshare (@betterbikeshare).
  • Doesn’t replace car trips that much. From user surveys, bikeshare mostly replaces walking and public transportation. Car trip replacement was reported as 2% in London and 7% in Washington, DC. However, users surveyed about driving habits reported 29-50% less driving, based on the city. This data is from user surveys though, not direct measurement.
  • Environmental impact unclear. The vehicles used to balance bike stations throughout the day can increase motor vehicle usage. That combined with not-enough car trip replacement may increase carbon emissions.
  • Health. This is seemingly favorable, with a link to a good study which I’ll post on separately. There are higher injury rates for women which may make the health benefit less attractive. For older people, the benefits are greater because they are at higher risk for preventable illness. Unfortunately, they are the minority of bikeshare users.

Overall there is now a good basis to dig into deeper questions of (a) how good is bike sharing for communities and (b) is it good for everyone in communities as well as what changes could be made to make it a bigger win. My impression is that public perception is very favorable (who doesn’t want a bikeshare station in front of their place of work 🙂 ), and with promising analyses of health impacts for some, there is great potential.

Here’s another review of this study as well: Have You Heard About That Awesome New Bike-Share Diet? – Next City

Ted Eytan, MD