New York City’s public bike share program, Citi Bike, has been the subject of some pretty worrisome headlines in recent weeks. Officials have been fretting over the program’s finances, stretched thin over a brutal winter. One problem is that Citi Bike has failed to attract as many tourists as hoped. But a deeper dig into Citi Bike data shows that there’s another kind of pervasive imbalance in rider demographics: Most are 30-something dudes, as maps from Pratt Institute statistics professor Ben Wellington show.
And yet, the context actually tells a slightly different story. Five years ago, Hunter College researchers found that 91% of the riders in a Manhattan neighborhood were male. Since the city’s seen major improvements in bike infrastructure and its own bike share program, the gender gap has narrowed considerably. The bike share likely has something to do with it.
“I think that these datasets tell a story, and I like to let them tell themselves,” Wellington says. After Citi Bike released eight months of data on the new program last month, Wellington decided to map who was actually riding the bright blue bikes all over the boroughs.
Peter Tuckel, one of the authors of the bike study in 2009, points out that the maps show a major improvement from years past.
“The number of female cyclists has almost doubled in size from almost five years ago,” he says. “Part of it is attributable to the advent of the bike share program. We find a narrowing of the gender gap among Citi Bike riders. I also believe that an improvement in the biking infrastructure has contributed to greater presence of females on city streets.”
Tuckel also highlights the fact that the sheer volume of riders on the streets has changed the definition of who dares to ride in New York City in the first place. And he believes it’ll only get better. “Cyclists are no longer a statistical anomaly,” he says. “They’ve become fixtures of the urban landscape.”
But there’s still much to be learned about who’s using the public bike share program and why. Wellington suggests that the city might be able to optimize the program if it released more data points. Already, his maps show that non-annual users (the tourist cash cows) tend to prefer riding on the West Side Highway, where bike docks are actually sparser.
Wellington would also like to learn more about how the gender gap in certain neighborhoods correlates with the gender gap in that neighborhood’s workforce. Looking at disparities among income levels would be interesting, too. “The lack of female riders on Wall Street and Midtown was quite intriguing,” he notes.