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

Friday, January 13, 2012 - 01:04 PM

Capital Bike Share in Washington D.C.

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.

Ralph Buehler ran the numbers for us, and as it happens, participation in bike share is lower than general cycling rates for African Americans. According to the American Community survey, 12 percent of the population is African American, and 11 percent of the people who bike to work are African American.

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. DC is running a promotion to offer discount Capital Bikeshare  memberships ($50 instead of $75) with the bank cards, and is looking into ways to create a monthly payment plan to make it even easier to join.

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.

Buehler adds: "There is a relative lack of bicycle infrastructure in the neighborhoods East of the Anacostia River (in Wards 8 and 7; the neighborhood of Anacostia is actually only a small part of that area).  Moreover population density is lower there than in downtown"

DDOT says it plans more outreach in African American neighborhoods as the weather warms up.

But the question remains: why do so few African Americans use DC's bike share?





Comments [9]


I am the oldest son of an African-American who owned a bike shop in Philly for 31 years before he passed. My home is in Columbia Heights and I have observed a lot of what the other commentators have expressed. I think my dad would agree if he was still here that economically it makes more sense to own the bike if you plan to use it for a long period of time.

Apr. 05 2012 02:17 AM
Harvey Botzman

I visit the District a few times a year. I usually stay in Columbia Heights which has very mixed racial & ethnic demographic.

Many adults bicycle in Columbia Heights commuting to metro stations as well as to perform utilitarian tasks (e. g., grocery shopping).

There is a much used Bike Share station outside of the Giant grocery store.

Most of the African-American, Hispanic, and other ethnic groups observed bicycling use their own bicycles rather than a Bike Share rental. Simply put it is less expensive to use your own bicycle.

Feb. 23 2012 01:38 AM
Roxanne Warren

Our nation has still not reached a point where blacks are always treated with the same respect as whites (witness the Tea Party's treatment of Obama). Nor have we reached the point where cyclists are always treated with the same respect and care as motorists. Cycling in the U.S. can therefoe be dangerous, and if you are black, it could well be more dangerous. I am speaking as a white woman, age 78, who used to be a commuting cyclist, and am putting myself in the shoes of blacks who would like to bike, but are concerned.

Jan. 27 2012 11:02 AM

Not that I am a stark prominent for handouts, but Capitol Bikeshare would also create a good ridership base (once these optimal patterns are figured out) if a small subsidy is established for a short period of time to give interested parties time to find the benefit in the program.

Jan. 18 2012 11:41 AM

If the aim is to get more people on bike share bikes in predominately African American neighborhoods than the foot cabi and metrobus patterns need close study. Conversely, if the aim is to place a few bike share stations sporadically placed to reduce the risk of a discrimination lawsuit, then job well done!

In my opinion the metro bus traffic patterns would be the best study as those are the folks without cars with distances too far to walk, too expensive for a cab, and without metro train accessibility.

Jan. 18 2012 11:37 AM

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

Adjust for income and age, please. Of the 50 percent of DC residents who are black, a very very large proportion are also very, very poor. Of the remainder who are not extremely poor, a very, very large proportion are old.

Jan. 17 2012 03:05 PM

The variable with the largest beta in this equation is the lack of safe and viable cycling infrastructure East of the River in Washington DC and Central and Southern Prince George's County Md. Citizens want to bike. They just don't feel safe on those roads.

Jan. 17 2012 02:23 PM
Richard Masoner ?

Jan. 17 2012 02:15 PM

They have their own bikes? No need to pay a yearly fee when you have your own bike.

Jan. 13 2012 10:09 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.