Will having an access to a bicycle become a basic urban right in the future?, Source: University of Coimbra/ Marta Costa

Lisbon’s bike paths reproduce the city’s social inequalities

Lisbon’s bike paths reproduce the city’s social inequalities

A study by the University of Coimbra shows that proper urban sustainable transition will be impossible if all sectors of society can’t take part in it

A recent study by the University of Coimbra (UC) found that there are significant gaps when it comes to accessibility to Lisbon’s cycling lanes network and shared bikes system, depending on where one lives. The question here is not of distance but of social standing, as lower-income districts have less access to these infrastructures than wealthy areas do.

The academic study was published in the international journal Cities and Health, pointing to an issue that would need to be resolved by policymakers and urban administrations, if they are serious about implementing comprehensive mobility transition.

Soft mobility network planning should be a question of public interest

The research crossed data on the geographic distribution of the Gira bike paths and docks with an indicator of social vulnerability calculated for each statistical section (small areas of territory, corresponding to several blocks) of the Portuguese capital.

It concluded that “the geographic areas where the social vulnerability index is higher (tendentially the poorest) have worse access than areas with a low level of social vulnerability”.

The results of this study show that the development of the bike-sharing system and the cycle path network has so far been uneven. Although disparities in access and quality of service can be explained in part by the physical conditions of the territory (which are also correlated with the distribution of social groups), it is worrying that the development and expansion of these networks have done little to reduce the pre-existing inequalities and that, instead, can reinforce these problems,” notes Miguel Padeiro, the researcher behind the study.

These conclusions, in line with the conclusions of other studies of this kind, carried out in the USA, Chile and Colombia, raise yet another alert for public authorities and organizations linked to planning and urbanism.

The latter should take into account the public health and environmental sustainability gains that access to a network of bike lanes and a bike-sharing system can provide to all residents of a city.

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