The press lately has been fascinated with women on bikes. Reading these articles brings us a mixture of pleasure, optimism, frustration and annoyance. While mainstream acknowledgment of transportation bicycling is positive, the coverage regarding women has been shallow. Back in June the New York Times and Treehugger published articles that focus on women’s appearance and risk aversion – flaccid analyses that Trisha took head on in Mind the Gender Gap. Our female readers made their thoughts known loud and clear, which I highlighted in Women’s Voices.
Now Scientific American has jumped into the discussion with its article, “How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road: To boost urban bicycling, figure out what women want.” While there is the typical assertion that women are more risk averse than men, based on “studies across disciplines,” there is also an interesting note that even within the same city, women’s cycling rates shoot up when one counts riders on protected paths.
In New York City, men are three times as likely to be cyclists as women. Yet a bicycle count found that an off-street bike path in Central Park had 44 percent female riders. “Within the same city you find huge deviations in terms of gender,” Pucher remarks.
Then the article pleasantly surprised me by examining the gender gap on a deeper level. Recognizing the affect of gender roles, notably child care and household shopping, it concludes that protected paths are not enough if they do not provide helpful routes for errands.
Women also do most of the child care and household shopping, which means these bike routes need to be organized around practical urban destinations to make a difference.
“Despite our hope that gender roles don’t exist, they still do,” says Jennifer Dill, a transportation and planning researcher at Portland State University…
And when cities do install traffic-protected off-street bike paths, they are almost always along rivers and parks rather than along routes leading “to the supermarket, the school, the day care center,” Pucher says.
Child care responsibilities are a real factor: my sister tried bike commuting with her son on a trail-a-bike, but gave up when the time crunch caused her son to be the first kid dropped off at daycare in the mornings and the last picked up in the evenings. The affect of gender roles is backed up in the article by a survey that found that “needing a car” is an important factor influencing women’s cycling rates – but not men’s.
Needing a car is likely tied to the household errands women often perform, Handy says, and could be addressed in part by outreach programs showing that women can “jump on a bike the way they jump in a car.”
But the same survey found that “comfort” is another such factor. I find it hard to believe that “comfort” is not an equally important factor for men, what with all the men driving around in plush autos with air conditioning, cup holders and iPod docking stations. Perhaps men are less likely to choose this factor in a survey, but in reality I question the disparity.
The article ends with a shout-out to Janette Sadik-Khan, something I can always get on board with.
“A woman cyclist became head of the [NYC] DOT, and wonderful things started happening.”
Overall, the article offers surprising depth compared to other press on the issue, simply by acknowledging the affect of gender roles. However, for a “scientific” publication, I would like to see more analysis. I remain unconvinced that most factors affecting transporation cycling rates do not apply to both women and men.
What would you like to see added to this gender gap conversation?