As bicycling has exploded in Portland and other U.S. cities over the last decade, planners, advocates, elected officials, and researches have identified a consistent trend: men significantly outnumber women riding bicycles.
|photo courtesy of treehugger.com
Identifying the problem was the easy part. And it is indeed a problem. As Scientific American pointed out in an article, women are considered an indicator species for a healthy bikeway network. In other words, if women are not riding bicycles in your city, chances are your city is not very good for bicycling. (As an aside, I ask: can we not come up with a better phrase to describe this phenomenon than "indicator species"?)
The argument was primarily based on the quality of a city's bicycling infrastructure and the perception of safety provided by the bikeway network. For example, in cities where women make up a high percentage of the number of people bicycling, the bikeway network is separated from cars and automobile speeds are generally lower. In cities where there are higher percentage of men bicycling, the bike infrastructure is either non-existent or separated by cars by paint. Thus, the argument went, women must not feel safe and therefore don't bike in cities without high-quality, separated bikeways.
But now new research by the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycling Professionals (APBP) suggests that time and convenience are playing a more important role than safety for women bicycling. A Publicola article from last week entitled, "Why More Women Don't Ride," summarized the APBA study:
When researchers actually ask women themselves why they do not ride more often, safety barely registers. The number one reason? Women say cycling is inconvenient. And the number one factor in determining convenience is the time it takes to get from place to place. And time is something women simply have less of than men.
The article continues by citing research that women are doing more errands than men on their way to work and that womens' family and childcare obligations are much greater. Overall, women drive 60 to 70 percent more than men! This research makes me wonder about the prevailing notions we have about our transportation options and about women bicycling.
The themes that the APBA research uncovered are much greater than just about the number of people bicycling. If time and convenience are our most important considerations when choosing how to get to work or around town, perhaps we should take a new look at how we plan and promote our bicycling, walking, and transit systems.