Infrastructure to Blame for the Cycling Gender Gap
According to the 2009 U.S. Department of Transportation National Household Travel Survey, only 24 percent of nationwide bike trips were made by women. This percentage comes in stark contrast to the streets of Europe, which see gender ratios at 50-50 among cyclists.
This proves women, as a gender, are not adverse to riding bikes, but for some reason, women in America are.
What's to blame? My guess: poor bike infrastructure on US streets.
Studies point to safety as U.S. women's number one riding reservation. Take, for instance, the fact that women are 44% more likely than men to wear a helmet while riding. Or consider, in Europe, cyclists are protected by a vast network of bike paths and fellow riders, thus providing women with the necessary precautions to feel comfortable à vélo.
According to a 2011 survey by the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, 14% of 1,300 women admitted they would be more likely to ride if they were protected by safer bike infrastructure. While bike lanes are a start, there's more city planners must consider.
How About Convenience?
In that very same Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals study, 22% of women said they would consider cycling if it were more convenient. One way to increase convenience is with better infrastructure – which requires more than just arbitrary bike paths. Bike paths need to be targeted to places women frequent. Even in our gender-progressive society, women are statistically more prone to run errands – groceries, household chores, etc. To encourage women to bike more frequently, bike planning (including paths, parking, and enforcement of road safety) should be designed to assist women in getting where they need to go as easily as possible.
As for the Children…
It comes as no surprise that the APBP Women's Cycling Survey revealed women cyclists typically fall outside of the child-rearing age bracket. If women don't feel comfortable on their bikes, how are they expected to encourage their children to ride with them? It is important to teach children to cycle during their formative years, so they translate biking into a viable mode of transportation all the way through adulthood.
Bike sharing makes bike riding more accessible for females, as they don't have to worry about male-dominated (and frankly, intimidating) bike shops or regular maintenance. Nice Ride, the Twin Cities' bike sharing program, has seen greater percentages of women in their clientele than the national bike average. Bikesharing not only addresses women's convenience concerns, but places them within a bike community, adding to the general sense of security.
Infrastructure refers to the systems and organizations put in place to promote a particular enterprise. If we want to move our society towards sustainable transportation, we need to figure out how to get females on bikes by way of better infrastructure.