How to Get More Women on Bikes? Better Biking Infrastructure, Designed by Women

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By Lauren Pearson, Monash University and Ben Beck, Monash University 

The number of women riding bikes has increased dramatically in cities globally, including a 50% rise in London during the COVID lockdown, and near-equal gender participation in Paris after pop-up bike lanes were put in place.

In Australia, however, cycling remains a male dominated and male-designed activity, where men outnumber women by two to one.

Despite low numbers, our research has found three in four women in one state (Victoria) are interested in riding their bikes, which raises the question, what is stopping them?

Our new study, published over the weekend, found that women experience gendered barriers to riding a bike compared with men. This includes a lack of supportive infrastructure, such as bike paths or protected lanes, to make them feel safer in traffic.

We found involving women in decisions about implementing new bike infrastructure, as well as expanding the use of e-bikes through financial incentives, are key to getting more women on the road.

Becka Roolf of Salt Lake City Transportation designed the Downtown to University of Utah Bike Route. Photo by Dave Iltis

Women face substantial barriers to bike riding

Our study involved a survey and in-depth interviews with over 700 people across Melbourne. Women in the study described a lack of confidence about bikes, from buying and maintaining them to riding them.

When trying to buy one, for instance, women described being treated as “just a girlie with a bike”, often leaving shops with a bike insufficient for their needs.

Becka Roolf of Salt Lake City Transportation designed the Downtown to University of Utah Bike Route. Photo by Dave Iltis

We found that inclusive community groups such as Wheel Women and Chicks Who Ride Bikes can play a key role in tackling this by empowering women to ride.

Many women in the study also expressed a desire to ride more, but said lighting on bike paths was non-existent, inadequate or turned off after hours, leading them to fear for their personal safety. This limited how much they were willing to ride their bikes in winter, or for other trips outside of daylight hours.

To compound this, women reported bike paths often detouring into dark underpasses. While underpasses protect bike riders and walkers from overhead traffic, they often feel hidden from public view and have inadequate lighting and limited escape routes.

There are ways to address this, too, such as reflective surfaces, gentle turns to improve visibility and encouraging greater community use of the spaces.

Including women in planning decisions

Women take different kinds of trips and ride different bikes from men. Women also have different preferences for biking infrastructure that makes them feel safe and comfortable.

The brand new 300 West Bike Path in Salt Lake City was designed by Blaire Tomten of Avenues Consulting. Photo by Dave Iltis

And yet, when it comes to creating spaces for people to bikes in cities, women do not have a clear seat at the table.

In Australia, the majority of biking infrastructure is implemented by transport engineers, of which only 15% are women.

The brand new 300 West Bike Path in Salt Lake City was designed by Blaire Tomten of Avenues Consulting. Photo by Dave Iltis

Our study highlights the critical importance of protected bike lanes to encourage more women to ride a bike. Protected bike lanes limit interactions between bikers and car drivers, minimising risk of injury and potential harassment from motorists. Despite these benefits, a 2018 study found that 99% of all bike lanes on Melbourne roads remain unprotected.

Women with children described wanting to make trips by bike in their local areas, but had concerns about “missing links” between bike paths, leaving them vulnerable to motor vehicle traffic.

Building protected bike lanes across cities is a difficult task, but there are other options. For instance, Australian cities could design networks of protected bike lanes that stitch together 30km/h speed zones and low-traffic neighbourhoods.

E-bikes are out of reach for many

Over half of the women in our study were concerned about collisions with motor vehicles. And significantly more women reported concerns about their physical ability to ride a bike. They described feeling like they could not “keep up” with traffic or worried about their physical fitness to escape tricky situations.

E-bikes allow women to transport children without worrying about their physical ability and can allay concerns about keeping up with cars. Despite the benefits, however, the cost of e-bikes remains out of reach for many.

E-bike financial incentives, such as tax rebates and car trade-in schemes are common all over the world, but do not yet exist anywhere in Australia. Such incentives are critical to enabling a greater number and diversity of women to ride a bike.

As we move toward net-zero-emission cities, the shift to sustainable and active modes of transport is essential. Empowering women to drive the conversation about what they need to be able to ride a bike – and increasing the number of women designing and planning biking infrastructure – is crucial to ensure women aren’t left behind.The Conversation

Lauren Pearson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Monash University and Ben Beck, Associate Professor and Head of Sustainable Mobility and Safety Research, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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