Geographies of (dis)advantage in walking and cycling: Perspectives on equity and social justice in planning for active transportation in U.S. cities Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Braun, Lindsay
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of City and Regional Planning
  • In recent years, cities across the U.S. have increasingly invested in programs, policies, and infrastructure to support active transportation. Some have suggested that these investments could help to address health disparities observed by race and socioeconomic status (SES) in the U.S., given that walking and cycling are physically active and low-cost modes of transportation. Despite this potential, there is emerging evidence that active transportation investments have been inequitably distributed across communities of varying sociodemographic composition. For instance, cycling advocates have recently argued that low-income and minority populations have disproportionately low access to safe, convenient infrastructure such as bike lanes. At the same time, some active transportation projects have recently faced opposition in several large U.S. cities due to concerns about gentrification. Limited research has considered the distribution of active transportation infrastructure and potential associations between cycling investment and sociodemographic change. I address this gap through three related analyses. First, I examine how different sociodemographic groups are distributed across space with respect to built environment characteristics in Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Oakland. I find that low-SES and minority populations tend to live in more walkable neighborhoods, but are less likely to be distributed across a full range of neighborhood types. Second, I examine cross-sectional associations between bike lane access and area-level sociodemographic characteristics in 22 large U.S. cities. I find that even after adjusting for traditional indicators of cycling demand, access to bike lanes is lower in areas with lower educational attainment, higher proportions of Hispanic residents, and lower SES. Third, I examine longitudinal associations between new bike lane infrastructure and sociodemographic change between 1990 and 2015 in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Oakland. I find evidence that new bike lanes occurred disproportionately in areas that were either already advantaged or increasing in advantage over time. These analyses reveal sociodemographic differences in access to environments and infrastructure that support active transportation, often suggesting lower access among disadvantaged populations. Addressing these disparities, however, is complicated by associations between infrastructure investment and sociodemographic change. Efforts to expand active transportation infrastructure should recognize concerns about gentrification and carefully consider the social context of infrastructure investment.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Spurlock, Danielle
  • McDonald, Noreen
  • Lester, T. William
  • Gordon-Larsen, Penny
  • Rodriguez, Daniel
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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