Bikes bring all the boys to the yard…
I’m not gonna be shocking anyone with the following declaration: biking, both competitive and commuter, is dominated
by dudes. As a result, there has been a lot of digging in academic research as well as the blogosphere to figure out why there exists such a sexual dichotomy in the adoption of the bicycle as a means of transportation (I am particularly tickled by the phrase “Riding When Female” coined by Melissa Lafsky in tackling the topic).
In “Bicycling Renaissance in North America? An Update and Re-Appraisal of Cycling Trends and Policies,” Rutgers University and Virginia Tech researchers John Pucher and Ralph Buehler conclude:
Almost all the growth in cycling in the United States has been among men between 25 and 64 years old, while cycling rates have remained steady among women and fallen sharply for children.
Again, no big whoop here (as far as gender differences go; the bit about children not biking is alarming). But what this statistic also means is that the percentage of total bike trips completed by women will drop if this trend continues, and THAT is a problem for me, because then the attention paid to the concerns of female riders will drop in a corresponding manner. So, for the benefit of all urban and transportation planners out there reading my blog, here are my 2 cents as to what makes me ride (or not):
For me, the main reasons to START biking were financial and environmental considerations (not sex-specific). What has enabled me to CONTINUE biking are: safe streets, biking infrastructure, relatively mild weather, a generally biking-tolerant community, the fun and pleasant nature of riding, and living relatively close to basic services (including my job), which all boil down to location and are also pretty gender-neutral.
The places that I actively avoid riding through (and which would seriously discourage bike use if I were living in the middle of them) are areas with very high car traffic and where lots of men gather (that would be construction sites and warehouses with day laborers waiting outside). I really don’t mean to label these groups of people as being generally rude or female biker-unfriendly (they are not), but even one guy cat-calling me once every 2 weeks is enough for me to want to look for alternative routes. This is obviously a factor that is unique to women, and I think it’s fair to say that we are more sensitive to the perception of being safe/unharassed.
Having said the above, I’m gonna contradict myself a little and say that I still think that the best way to get more females to bike is to make streets more biker-friendly PERIOD. If biking infrastructure received as much funding and planning as its automobile counterpart and if I saw lots of cyclists around me every time I rode, I wouldn’t care so much about heavy traffic or construction workers, because 1) there would be enough distance between me and them and 2) both cars and workers would likely be better at dealing with those of us two-wheelers.
P.S. Those people/businesses promoting “stylish” (as in “pink”) bikes, apparel and other superficial items/concepts as incentives/motivation for us ladies to get on the bike are, clearly, NOT women.