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Portland State wins $75,000 grant to study bike share equity programs

Posted by on March 1st, 2018 at 4:56 pm

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

You can add another bike-related topic that researchers at Portland State University have gained national notoriety for: equity in bike share systems.

PSU’s Transportation Research and Education Consortium (TREC) just won a grant worth nearly $75,000 from the Better Bike Share Partnership. The award, announced today by People for Bikes, is part of $410,000 split between eight projects across the country.

The money will go toward a “national assessment of bike share equity programs.” Here’s more about the project:

Portland State’s research team will document the programs and strategies developed to address equity in bike share across the U.S., and identify the definitions and measures of success for each of these efforts. The result will be a catalog of equity approaches employed, an aggregated summary of key elements of each approach or strategy, and a record of which metrics agencies used to assess if they are meeting their equity goals, along with the various ways agencies are assessing their programs.


As bike share systems have become more common, providers, governments, and advocates want to make sure its benefits are distributed fairly across all races and income levels. Aspects of systems like; where the bikes are deployed, how they’re paid for, and how much they cost to use, can all have a significant impact on which communities get the most out of them.

“Cities, bike share operators, and community-based partners are eager for best practices and support to make bicycling and bike share more accessible and available to people of color and low-income communities,” said Zoe Kircos, Director of Grants and Partnerships at People For Bikes.

TREC is no stranger to the field of bike share equity. In 2017 they completed a three-part research project that aimed to make bike share systems more equitable. That research focused on the people who use and live near bike share systems.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • maxD March 1, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    Biketown has always struck me as inequitable in its discrimination against young people! It seems excessively limiting to families to not allow people under the age of 18 to ride these bikes, even with an adult! We let 16 year olds drive cars! I would love to know if other bikeshare systems have more equitable practices toward young people/families and why Biketown is so super restrictive.

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    • Ivan Boothe March 1, 2018 at 6:18 pm

      It may be about the ability to enter into/enforce contracts with people who are under 18, which is pretty limited. It’s better than renting cars, for which you have to be 25!

      But I agree there should be some way to enable this kind of access, even if it required some kind of co-signing by someone over 18.

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      • David Hampsten March 1, 2018 at 6:40 pm

        It also has to do with whether you can pay for bikeshare using your phone or not. Technically you can’t use LimeBike if you don’t have a smart phone, but I’ve seen “minority” middle-school kids on Limebikes here, so either the kids have smart phones with some sort of credit line, or else they have cleverly figured out how to hack the system – I’m guessing the latter. And, no, they weren’t wearing helmets.

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      • JeffS March 1, 2018 at 8:58 pm

        Of course it’s about the contract.

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      • Steve B. March 2, 2018 at 2:51 pm

        Not the USA but they’ve managed to do this in France:

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    • Phil Richman March 2, 2018 at 8:05 am

      Agreed, my 17 yo can drive, but not use BikeTown. I know Chicago’s age limit is 16 and they have a lot more bikes and a lot more users.

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  • David Hampsten March 1, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    We’ve had LimeBike here in Greensboro since June 2017, with about 1,000 bikes in our community of 288,000. About 7% of our population “regularly” use LimeBikes according to the company and another 2% occasionally, with about 1.5 rides per bike per day. When we see Strava maps for Greensboro, most rides are in the wealthier white neighborhoods of the northwest part of the city, especially along multi-use paths and a nearby battlefield park. However, a recent LimeBike heatmap showed heavy use not only around the two main universities here, not at all surprising, but also very heavy use in the predominantly black neighborhoods on the east and south sides of the city, which was a huge surprise.

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  • rick March 1, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    Well, it isn’t available in Lair Hill or near OHSU on the hill.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu March 2, 2018 at 6:31 am

      Topography. . .

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      • David Hampsten March 2, 2018 at 10:23 am

        Some of the more modern bikes, at least those built since 1890, seem to have a new technology called “gears”. LimeBike has embraced this new technology, though perhaps Biketown has not?

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  • JeffS March 1, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    I’m eager to hear whether the proposed solution is going to be race based preference, wealth redistribution or both.

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    • Middle of the Road Guy March 2, 2018 at 9:45 am

      I’m eager to hear how they will measure the success of their solutions.

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  • Zach March 2, 2018 at 8:39 am

    “make bicycling and bike share more accessible and available to people of color and low-income communities”

    It’s cool that they need $75,000 to come up with the obvious answer: installing Biketown ***in those communities***. Literally a baby could figure that out.

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    • David Hampsten March 2, 2018 at 10:24 am

      Yes, but is the baby a faculty member yet at PSU?

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      • Tim March 3, 2018 at 5:25 am

        Seems odd that PSU (where wealthy students complain about walking 4 blocks) is somehow going to understand “equity” in access to bike share programs…..

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        • turnips March 5, 2018 at 1:10 pm

          I think you’re confusing Portland State University (PSU) with the University of Portland (UP). while there are certainly folks who complain about the high cost of parking near PSU, the article about having to walk four blocks to campus because there isn’t enough free parking was published in the UP student newspaper.

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  • Shoupian March 2, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    “As bike share systems have become more common, providers, governments, and advocates want to make sure its benefits are distributed fairly across all races and income levels” – always the extra scrutiny and suspicion for bicycle projects. When was the last time a roadway expansion project or any policy that subsidizes driving get a study on the distributed benefits/costs across all races and income levels? I think even the least equitable bike share system is more equitable than the automobile-oriented transportation system.

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    • David Hampsten March 2, 2018 at 2:51 pm

      This happens regularly. In fact it’s the main cause of roadway construction delays. It’s called an “environmental review” or NEPA, and in most cases they do in fact look at impacts upon poor people, minorities, and other groups counted by the census. In Oregon the study delay is usually 2-3 years; in North Carolina, it’s typically 9-12 years.

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  • RH March 2, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Why does this even matter? Isn’t biketown privately funded with no taxpayer money? If yes, then they can put the bikes wherever they want and charge whatever they want.

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    • David Hampsten March 2, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      It is not, or not entirely. According to PBOT, the city contributed $3.2 million for bikeshare 2016/17 operations, not including planning staff, community outreach by staff, nor city maintenance (adopted budget page 480). Since PBOT is running it, any shortfalls in revenue from sponsorships and fees will have to be borne by Portland taxpayers. In addition, Biketown occupies public right-of-way which could be used for other purposes such as bike parking, parks, benches, homeless camps, etc, an indirect subsidy.

      If Biketown was run like LimeBike or other non-subsidized bike share companies, then your statement would be quite true. But since PBOT is running it, no matter how much non-government income there is, even if over 100%, it still has to be equitable by law, or else PBOT and the city could lose all of its’ other federal subsidies for transit, sewers, roadways, police, fire, etc.

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  • Emily Guise (Contributor) March 2, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    Zach, that is a big part of it obviously (and I’m all for expansion, Biketown everywhere please) but education is another important part. Bikeshare is often seen as a harbinger of gentrification and displacement, and lots of people, if they don’t see a person who looks like them biking, won’t think it’s for them or just don’t know what it’s about or what the benefits are.

    For example, a recent study of Citi Bike use in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn showed that “Bed-Stuy saw 225 percent more Citi Bike trips in June 2016 than in June 2015. What changed? Expansions in 2015 and 2016 increased the number of stations and bikes in Bed-Stuy…But more than that, Restoration dedicated itself to a three-year mission of changing the culture and conversation about bike-share.” Quote from this article.

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  • Jake Wilson March 3, 2018 at 2:27 am

    “part of $410,000 split between eight projects”

    *among eight projects

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