Blog - A Decade of Bluebikes in the Boston Region: How Access to Bikeshare has Changed for Environmental Justice Communities

  • A photo of two people riding bluebikes bikeshare bikes on the esplanade in Boston.
    Photo: Bluebikes.

    A new analysis by the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Transportation Equity Program traces the history of bikesharing in the Boston region and the distribution of Bluebikes stations over time in communities with high shares of minority and low-income populations, referred to collectively as environmental justice (EJ) populations.

    Share of EJ populations living within one-quarter or one-half mile of a station has increased significantly

    The Boston region’s largest bikeshare system, Bluebikes, has been in operation for a decade. Since its start in 2011, the system (called Hubway until 2018) has expanded from downtown Boston to neighborhoods throughout the city and to 10 other municipalities, giving many more people access to a low-cost, sustainable mode of transportation. Hubway debuted with 60 stations in Boston. Within 10 years, the number of stations—now all Bluebikes stations—increased to 393 in 11 municipalities, representing a 555 percent increase. 

    With the expansion of Bluebikes since 2011, the share of EJ populations living within one-quarter or one-half mile of a station, out of the total EJ population that lives in participating municipalities, has increased significantly. As of 2021, more than 50 percent of the minority or low-income population lives within one-quarter mile of a station, and more than 75 percent lives within one-half mile. This compares favorably to the approximately 20 percent and 30 percent that lived within one-quarter and one-half mile, respectively, of a station in 2011.

    A graph showing the percent of EJ population in participating municipalities in 2011, 2016, and 2021 living within 1/4 and 1/2 mile of a station.
    Environmental Justice Population with Access to Bluebikes Stations. Sources: 2010 Decennial Census and 2010–14 American Community Survey.

    Analysis will be updated when 2020 Decennial Census data are available

    The data used to identify the minority population are from the United States Census Bureau’s 2010 Decennial Census, and the data used to identify the low-income population are from the 2010–14 five-year American Community Survey (ACS). It was necessary to use 2010–14 ACS data because one year must overlap with the Decennial Census to produce accurate transportation analysis zone-level demographic data. To maintain consistency, 2010 Decennial Census data were used for the minority population. Once 2020 five-year ACS data are available, the analyses in this StoryMap will be updated using that data for the low-income population and 2020 Decennial Census data for the minority population. 

    Does proximity really mean access?

    A Bluebikes station
    Bluebike station at Forest Hills. Photo: MBTA.

    This analysis used proximity as a proxy for overall access—it assumed that if people live near a station, they can use it. However, it did not account for whether bikeshare bicycles can get riders where they need to go, whether there is sidewalk infrastructure that allows the riders to safely reach the station, whether the cost of the bikeshare is affordable, or whether there is safe bicycling infrastructure in the neighborhood. These are all crucial factors that affect whether a bikeshare system truly serves a population. While these other factors were beyond the scope of the MPO’s study, they remain important factors to assess when seeking to understand if a bikeshare system is equitable.

    Future analyses could focus on other demographic groups that the MPO considers as transportation equity populations and that are covered by civil rights mandates: people with disabilities, people ages 17 years and younger or 75 years and older, and people with limited English proficiency. Other analyses could incorporate a broader definition of “access” to account for the presence of safe bicycle infrastructure nearby, equity of costs to users, and the ability of bikeshare to provide access to various destinations such as jobs and essential services.

    More Information

    Read the StoryMap. Reach out to study author Betsy Harvey with questions. For press inquiries, contact Subscribe and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @BostonRegionMPO.