Healthy for Whom? Social Equity in the Distribution of Bicycling Benefits and Risks
Cities are increasingly investing in bicycle infrastructure to promote physical activity and associated health benefits. While these benefits are widely recognized, bicycling is also associated with health risks, including pollution exposure and injury. Previous research has analyzed these health tradeoffs, generally suggesting that the benefits of bicycling outweigh its risks. This research, however, has been limited in its treatment of social equity, estimating impacts at the population level (for an entire city) rather than considering spatial variations in risk that could arise from differential environmental conditions. Given that marginalized populations tend to be exposed to conditions that make them vulnerable to the risks of bicycling (such as poor bike lane access and close proximity to major roadways), these spatial variations are critical for social equity.
To address this gap, Professor Braun asks three research questions:
• How are pollution exposure and injury risks distributed across cities?
• How are these risks correlated with sociodemographic characteristics?
• How does this distribution of risk affect the health tradeoffs of bicycling?
This work will begin in Chicago, given its urban sensor network that collects real-time environmental data, but will then be extended to other cities. Using a variety of analytical tools and data sources, Professor Braun will be able to assess whether the tradeoffs of bicycling differ across population groups. The results will challenge universal statements about the benefits of bicycling and determine whether they are valid for marginalized populations, contributing to more equitable planning practices.