Women and cycling
Russell Degnan

Much is made of the large disparity between the number of male and female cyclists in some countries - notably the USA, UK and Australia. Numerous differences are cited, from appearances to different patterns of use - most of which don't stand up to scrutiny given the higher rates of female cycling in many northern European countries.

Melissa Lafsky at The Infrastructurist cites some physiological reasons, arguing that commuting by bike is more amenable to the male, testosterone driven mind-set. This is, by no means, a unique observation, but it may be an important one. If female risk aversion is the major reason for lower cycling rates on unsafe streets then we should see some differences in commuting patterns.

Unfortunately, strong data on commuting patterns and demographics is hard to come up with, particularly at the sort of finely grained detail needed for this type of study. A student of mine looked into this earlier in the year and observed almost double the percentage of female cyclists on roads with bike lanes (45%) versus roads without (25%). Unfortunately the study was also small, short and biased towards routes that we already know from the census had high numbers of female cyclists - which may or may not be a cycling lane thing.

Still, this was valuable confirmation of the idea expressed above. The more recent availability of CData for the 2006 census allows me to test another hypothesis: if female cyclists are more risk averse, then the percentage of cyclists that are female should correlate strongly with the percentage of cycling commuters.

Using data from every Statistical Local Area in Australia, we can see graph these two data sets to see what occurs. CData's tendency to randomise small numbers makes this graph a little problematic. Quite a few SLAs have fewer than 10 female cyclists, and I excised SLAs with either no female cyclists or less than 20 cyclists over-all.


The correlation is not linear, so the graph has a logarithmic scale on the y-axis. The correlation is strong, however. Essentially, for every doubling of the percentage of cyclists commuting, you get a 10% increase in female participation rate. The vast bulk of SLAs have very low female participation rates (5-20%). But there are a number of area (notably in Melbourne's inner north) with both high number of cyclists and close to parity in terms of female participation rates.

I agree, therefore with the conclusion made by Melissa:

"All of which leads to our point (we're getting there, we promise): Letís stop talking about the "women on bikes" issue as a psycho-socio-gender phenomenon, and start talking about it as a policy call to action. If we reprioritized public and private initiatives to push biking, by creating more safety features like mandatory bike lanes, bike checkpoints and safety checks, as well as more incentivizing programs from employers ("bike to work" payment vouchers, etc.), we might see a real and meaningful change in the number of women - and men, for that matter - who chose to bike."

With one caveat. Because women are less likely to cycle when conditions are not favourable they are a better barometer than men if you want to find out why 90+% of the population do not cycle. While there are no shortage of commuting cyclists who have grievances - albeit often important ones - with the policy focus on bicycle facilities, their confidence in traffic and tendency not to expect the same of others is less useful if your aim is to promote and expand the base of cyclists. The non-cycling commuter, particularly the female non-cycling commuter needs to be heard.

Which brings me to my final point. While it was good to see a cycling strategy released earlier this year that actively promoted the idea of cycling as a "serious transport mode", the actual actions proposed, beyond the basic infrastructure already mooted, were thin on the ground. One of the things Copenhagen does very well - largely ignored by politicians who'd rather take pictures of bike lanes on overseas junkets than read a strategy document - is set a series of benchmarks for cycling safety and perceptions of cycling safety in the broader community (that is, outside the existing cycling community as well). We need, in Victoria, proper annual surveys, not of cyclists, but of non-cyclists, particularly women, with regard to their reasons for not cycling, with the aim, through the existing programs, of attacking those reasons. Without that, we are, unfortunately, still aiming in the dark, sometimes at real targets, and sometimes, not.

Sterner Matters 31st December, 2009 21:54:53   [#] 

Comments

Women and cycling
Fascinating topic. I agree, if we can find out why women are not cycling, and then get more women on bikes, we have the key to growing urban cycling in Aust..

There are many reasons which I explore on my blog, as a male, but talking to lots of women that have yet to surface in debate. Some are touchy.

Cycling here is a mono culture, primarily about racing, speed and the lycra look. The images this generates are not enticing to either women or men who just want to go from A to B on a bike as one does in Europe.

I cut my film, The waltz of the bikes (see blog) to especially provide another more welcoming image and for women above all. A sort of;"that's what I want," tag tool

Secondly, utility riders generally, and esp. women don't like wearing helmets and, and to the extent they give it any thought, don't understand why this should be a matter of choice all over Europe and not here. Esp. since there is a perfect inverse correlation between not wearing helmet and being safe on a bike.

This may not be due to the helmet but rather because those countries who did not cop-out as it were, shoving the safety responsibility onto the heads of riders, as we did and NZ too, but who addressed the real source of safety which is under the wheels, the building of bike paths, etc. they now have safe cycling and seemingly no need for helmets.

Our transfer/avoidance ploy has now caught us out.We are supposedly third in the world in cycling (of a certain sort, the mono culture sort) and we have yet to get Bike share, the street rental schemes whicn are transforming urban cycling.

Small contracts have been signed, but we are stymied by the discovery that there is no way to automatically despense a sanitized guaranteed helmet along with such a rental bike. (see film. Bike Share and helmets don't mix?)


Lastly, for urban cycling for women esp. we disparage the use of the proper sort of bike. It's changing a bit now, but generally a bike shop will try and talk you out of buying a sit-up bike, the classic European model used by 90% of A to b riders.

I suspect, and this is also touchy, it's because they realize these bikes fly a different flag. They send a message that there is a vibrant sort of cycling to be done which has nothing to do with the controlling mono culture, the culture making so much money for bike shops where bikes of a certain sort, all owing something to racing, outsell cars in this country.

This not to say there no palce for the rce derived bike. See Dortor on a bike in whichDr. Ian Charton spells out the different roles each plays.

Cycling, as they like to say, is a broard church. Certainly, but lets have more than just one pew for the key to urban cycling, the sort of riding which can de-clog our cities, cut or carbon footprin (the world's largest)

Bike share can put the sit-up bike front and centre because its the configuration that's always used, and now in 60 cities around the world. Bike with baskets even!

Bike share turbo charges not only women's cycling but this sort of bike. The two languish in tandem.

The situation, the contradictions are due to get worse as London prepares to welcome 10,000 Bixis this summer, those same bikes having transformed Montreal into an urban bike leader last summer.

let's do all we can to get Bike Suare to Australand indeed get more women on bikes .

Mike Rubbo
http://sit-up cycle.com


mike rubbo  13th January, 2010 06:53:30  

Women and cycling
Greetings from Brooklyn, New York. I got turned onto your blog by a mutual friend, Samir Chopra.

I liked this post. Your proposal to focus on NON-cyclists is excellent. I am convinced there are several thousand potential cyclists here in New York who refuse, understandably, to ride because of the poor state of infrastructure and because of the low profile of the tiny cycling population.

Your point about women has a corollary in William "Holly" Whyte's observation about women's use of public spaces. A healthy public space has a relatively high proportion of women and the elderly.

Cheers,

Nick
Nick Peterson  14th January, 2010 23:49:37