A New York Times article exposing the gender gap in city cycling has promoted women to voice the factors that stop them riding.
Task forces have been trying to get more women out on bikes by promoting them as “stylish” but women have said that they’re more worried about safety.
The initial article cited a study into the use of the “Citi Bike” hire scheme in New York, which showed that less than 25 per cent of users were female, dropping to 20 per cent in bad weather.
A new leadership team has been set up to try to encourage more users. To address the ‘women problem’ they have started hosting women’s rides to make cycling “seem more stylish”.
Citi bikes have also appeared in the windows of Bloomingdale’s, in TV shows, and the company have also been posting pictures of celebs like Lionardo DiCaprio and Kelly Rohrback locking lips on their Citi bikes. Even Vogue magazine has been sharing Citi bike cycling fashion ideas.
These efforts are all very noble, but reader comments that poured in following the article, published on July 7, reaching 329 in total, suggest safety is number one.
One reader from Queens explained: “I believe the biggest factor discouraging most people, not just women, from biking in the city is the lack of adequate infrastructure for bikes, the absence of which can make biking a truly scary proposition for the average New Yorker.”
Julie added: “Biking in NYC will be scary and dangerous for people of all genders and ages until the city consistently enforces the rules of the road.”
Rachel from Brooklyn said: “As a female bicyclist, you not only have to deal with the usual hollering from men on the street, but you also feel more vulnerable to the incredibly aggressive traffic culture – where your body is constantly at peril.”
Kelcie Ralph is an assistant professor at Rutgers University, who studies the transportation habits of young adults.
She spoke to the New York Mag about the phenomenon and reinforced the theory that concern over safety is the key factor – explaining: “It’s not about, ‘they don’t want to get their hair messed up’ or ‘they don’t want to get sweat’. Those are secondary reasons. In places where biking is safe — in the Netherlands and a few other areas — women bike and, often, women bike more than men.”
Studies have shown that men tend to take part in more risky behaviours – so Ralph believes that the gender gap will remain as long as cycling feels dangerous to women.
Ralph has carried out her own research, looking at the London bike hire scheme. She counted the number of women taking bikes from the docking stations and said that in the week, fewer than 20 per cent were taken by women. However, over the weekend the figure went up to 40 per cent, and she said that in parks and rural areas, over half of users were women.
She explained: “That’s an indication that it’s not that women don’t like to bike, when women look at a given street, they perceive it as less safe than a man does.”
Asked what needed t0 change to encourage more women to ride – she said: “It’s not about getting purple bikes or pink bikes. It’s about huge changes to the street network.”
The comments mirror a lot of those we heard at the UK women in cycling conference and come soon after Sustrans announced that proper bike lanes and infrastructure could save up to £1 million a day in the UK.
All this said – a Cyclescheme survey published less than six months ago revealed that messy hair, feeling self-conscious, helmet hair and being sweaty in the office were major concerns for women. Abuse from motorists made up only 16 per cent of the responses – showing that worries over being ‘office ready’ are far from unimportant to UK women.
Looking for a real cycling style icon? Check out these pics of Catherine Baba on her bike.