I Bike! Boston: A communication campaign addressing health disparities

I Bike Boston billboard, a communication campaign to address health disparities

(March 2017) Once again this summer, gridlocked Boston drivers will idle next to MBTA buses that display happy, mobile Boston residents and their bikes on their exteriors. Pedestrians walking by or waiting at public transit shelters will read about why their neighbors choose to bike.

The transit displays are part of a public awareness campaign developed by the Health Communication Core (HCC) promoting bicycling as a form of active transportation to help address health disparities in Boston neighborhoods. Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) selected HCC after putting out a request for proposals.

Neighborhood disparities

When stratified by neighborhood, the data in the most recent Health of Boston report show that health outcomes vary dramatically by location. “Neighborhoods serve as the physical and social environments of our daily lives. In other words, place matters,” its authors wrote. Levels of physical activity are demonstrably lower among Blacks, Latinos, and people with lower SES.

Learning from residents

In focus groups across the city, we asked residents why people do or do not bike in their neighborhoods. The primary barriers they talked about were:

  • Cost of obtaining and repairing a bike
  • Safety issues--traffic and lack of knowledge about safety
  • Perceiving that biking is for people who are either young, primarily white, male, or “tourists and hipsters”

They also shared their motivations--saving time and money, health, recreational benefits, green transportation, and the freedom and convenience of not depending on a car or public transit.

Real people

Residents felt strongly that the campaign should show “real people with their real bikes” to affirm that bicycling is not just for people with specialized, costly biking attire and equipment. We worked with BPHC to identify six residents from across the city who incorporate biking into their regular routines and were willing to be the campaign’s models.

“I Bike”

The campaign’s title, “I Bike,” conveys that people to whom we can easily relate--our neighbors and peers--choose to bike. When we presented the campaign to residents, its emphasis on biking as an individual choice was one of the characteristics they most appreciated.

From billboards to bike lights

The campaign’s formats--from billboards to bike lights--required that content be brief, direct, and action oriented. Each person communicates his or her reason for choosing to bike (highlighting benefits and motivations) in a few words.

Resources to help address the identified barriers to biking are highlighted, followed by a call to action (“Find”) and the URL of BostonBikes, a city-wide resource for all things biking.

Multiple channels and formats help the campaign reach a wide audience:

  • Billboards in English and Spanish
  • Bus shelters and bus exteriors/interiors
  • Posters in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian-Creole, Vietnamese
  • Promotional items like reflectors, stickers, and reflective wrist bands
  • Social media graphics for sharing on BPHC and its partners’ social media networks

Campaign launch

The campaign originally launched on May 20, 2016 during Boston's Bike to Work Day celebration at City Hall Plaza with a banner hanging from City Hall and photo booth where people and their bicycles posed against the campaign’s backdrop.

It was relaunched in March 2017 against a backdrop of Boston snow. 

"For both youth and adults to gain the physical activity benefits from bicycling, it is critical to inform them about options in their communities," said BPHC Executive Director Monica Valdes Lupi, JD, MPH. 

In partnership with the Boston Transportation Department and Boston Bikes, the campaign is also expanding access to subsidized Hubway bike-share memberships, providing bike repair at farmers markets, and making bikes and helmets available to low-income residents. The campaign is funded by a three-year cooperative agreement award received by BPHC in September 2014 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.