The City of Chicago announced the launch of a new program that will offer low-cost annual Divvy Bike Share memberships based upon ability to pay, according to a last week’s press release. The program, called “Divvy for Everyone,” or D4E, will allow residents, with incomes below 300% of the federal poverty line, to obtain a one-time one-year membership for $5, without having to use a debit or credit card. Although we generally support initiatives that make bike-sharing a more accessible and affordable transit option, the D4E program leaves us with concerns over whether the city is putting ‘the cart before the horse’ by expanding bike-sharing to targeted neihgborhoods without fully considering the safety risks it presents.
First off, the program is available only to low-income residents, a significant portion of which reside in low-income communities. Second, as many are aware, lower-income neighborhoods tend to have less infrastructure and planning, and less funding overall to address roadway safety issues. Third, residents are more likely to travel by bicycle WITHIN their own community. Fourth, many of low-income neighborhoods lack safe and secure connections to surrounding suburbs, making bicycling for those that do travel outside one’s own community potentially dangerous. Put each of these factors together, and what we have is more bicyclists traveling in unsafe conditions, upon streets that are not designed for the increased presence of bicycling commuters, and alongside motorists that may not be used to sharing the roadway.
Further support of these contentions can be found in considering the five location in which residents can apply for the D4E program—Bronzeville, Englewood, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Ravenswood. With the exception to Ravenswood, the communities D4E targets are primarily minority-dominated poverty-stricken neighborhoods with high rates of crime that lack the resources to expand economic development and address issues of urban decay. Awareness of the growing socio-economic disparities in these areas is an issue that city has recognized for some time. However, with so many problems that need to be addressed, and limited funding available, these communities are often met with constraints that encumber their ability to adequately address issues specifically related to roadway safety. So, why then is bike-sharing being expanded to areas, which in their current state, are anything but bike-friendly?
The purported goals of the program focus upon providing convenient and affordable transportation to low income families by expanding bike-sharing to new communities and breaking down barriers that impede access bike-sharing. As CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfield points out, “Divvy is a transportation resource that can help working families save money and can often make the difference in terms of providing crucial access to jobs.” While we do see the benefits that D4E can offer, what program supporters fail to address are the potential safety issues that come along with incentivizing bike-sharing in communities that do not have sufficient infrastructure in place. Doesn’t this essentially encourage the working poor to use a transit option that may put them in danger?
As bicycle accident injury attorneys, we take issue with introducing a program that sends the message ‘Use bike-sharing, but do so at your own risk.’ We wonder whether the city intends to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach in terms of safety, meaning that they plan on waiting to see how many bicyclists are injured or killed before they make changes to improve safety. To us, this deprioritizes safety by making it an afterthought, as opposed to what is should be—an aforethought. Most unsettling of all, though, is that it does so in a manner targets specific persons and communities, which in effect, appears to be saying that public safety is of lesser importance in some areas and/or for some persons. Again, while we recognize the advantages of D4E, we also can’t ignore its weaknesses.
If you or a loved one were injured in a bicycling accident in or around the Chicago area, know your rights and take measures to protect them. Contact the Injury Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. online, or by calling us at 773-516-4100, and allow our legal team to evaluate your case at no cost to you.