In most cities around the world, women are less likely to hop on a bike than men. John Pucher, professor at the School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, explorers why women are less likely to choose a bicycle for travel, and how we can close the gender gap.
Explored in a chapter of his forthcoming book, City Cycling, Pucher has found that cities with more women riders experience higher rates of overall cycling. In these same cities Pucher finds that cycling conditions are typically safer, more accessible, and comfortable for all levels of cycling skill.
Conversely, where the percentage of female riders is low, overall rates of cycling also drop and the physical conditions for bicycling tend to be unsafe, inaccessible and uncomfortable. Pucher proposes that women are an ‘indicator species’ when it comes to cycling and that by obtaining the percentage of female cyclists a city can gauge their cycling infrastructure’s success. “The best way to raise overall levels of cycling is to get more women cycling,” said Pucher.
While promoting the health and mobility benefits of riding a bicycle are often used to encourage cycling – improved fitness, reduced risk of obesity, heart disease and cancer – actually getting women to ride is more complex.
The main factor discouraging women from cycling is fear of traffic danger as identified by Pucher. Cities who want to increase female ridership must address this perception as fear is also the biggest obstacle deterring children and seniors from cycling. Pucher suggests we look to the Netherlands, where bikes are used for all trip purposes and where 56 percent of bicycle trips are made by women.
The Dutch have taken numerous steps to create a safe cycling infrastructure, including separated bike lanes, traffic calmed neighborhood bikeways, as well as thorough training, testing, and traffic regulation enforcement for both motorists and cyclists. “It is the combination of superb cycling facilities and responsible, considerate motorist behavior toward cyclists that explains why cycling is safer in the Netherlands than in any other country in the world,” said Pucher.
Read more about John Pucher’s book, due for release in September 2012, at ecf.com/news/cyclingandwomen/.