Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Sara Maurer: Social Justice on Two Wheels

This is the third paper in a series “The Automobile, The City, and the New Urban Mobilities”, from the Automobile and The City course taught by Frederic Stout at Stanford University. Written by Sara Maurer ’16, and titled “Social Justice on Two Wheels: Why Bike-Share in the US Must Be Made Accessible to Low Income and Disadvantaged Communities”, this paper discusses the current mobility gap that exists in American society today, and how changes in current bike-sharing practices have the capability to close this gap in the future.

This is not an attack on cars in America. For sure, there is no shortage of criticisms of cars: that they are dangerous, polluting, oil-sucking, traffic-congesting incubators of social isolation. But this is not an attack on cars in America. While there is truth to those claims, it would be untrue (and unreasonable) to claim that cars, in all their popularity, offer no advantage to the people who use them. Cars are popular in large part because of the link between mobility and opportunity: the more easily you are able to get around, the greater your chances are to find a job, build social connections, and generally live life on your terms, and in a country set up for car travel, cars tend to allow the greatest access to opportunity. So this, instead, is an examination of an alternative mode of transportation, a mode that has the potential to mitigate the social and economic inequality that exists in large part because of unequal access to mobility. That mode is bicycles. The recent rise in U.S. cities of bike-share programs –systems of bike stations that allow people to check out, ride and re-dock bikes for short rides– is an opportunity to address the advantage gap that currently exists between those who have the greatest access to effective transportation and those who do not. But the mere introduction of bike-share programs will not bridge the gap, because the way in which bike-share programs are implemented and integrated into urban places has as much potential for widening socioeconomic gaps as it does for decreasing them. U.S. bike-share programs right now are not set up to be accessible for low-income groups: they are set up for the educated, the well-off, and the tech-savvy. If they continue like this, bike-share will be another mode of transit where, just like with cars, those with access to that means of transportation are at an advantage and those without, at a disadvantage.

That is why here I hope to discuss the advantage gap that exists in terms of mobility: why mobility is so important for equal opportunity, what the potential of bike-share programs is, what barriers to entry exist for low-income people currently, and what improvements people are discussing. But most of all I hope to drive home that because of the importance of mobility for socioeconomic opportunity, we must make bike-share systems accessible to more people than middle-aged yuppies and green living enthusiasts. Bike-share must be accessible to as many people as possible so that, far from worsening inequality, it can fulfill its potential to help low-income communities overcome the mobility gap that currently exists. 


To read the full paper visit: http://issuu.com/urbanter/docs/mauerpaper.docx


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