A recent report on cycling behavior in 17 countries, showed bike commuting is gender-equal in some countries such as Netherlands, but not so in the United States. This may come as no surprise to many in the United States, but why is this gap persistent? Here are some of the findings of the study that may explain the gender gap:
- Cycling levels are impacted by national and subnational policies which influence infrastructure availability and quality. In areas that are less attracting to cycling, the gender gap was the greatest.
- Women bike for non-commute purposes more than men and their trips are shorter. Also, the gender division of household labor affects cycling behavior.
- Women’s cycling behavior is different than men’s – they take more trips than men but their trips are shorter.
- In countries where children biked more (Finland, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands), the overall levels of cycling, including women were higher than in countries where children were underrepresented.
- To increase cycling levels and gender equity, we need to focus on making neighborhoods cycling friendly.
- In cities where cycling was safe for women and children, the levels of cycling among older adults also increased.
- Countries with good gender representation tend to have traffic reduction and traffic calming in neighborhoods, and tend to have policies that discourage car ownership and limited parking spaces.
- Infrastructure supporting biking in the United States is still insufficient.
While infrastructure is important, it will take time to build and improve on. In the meantime, we could do a few other things to show women that they are welcome on the streets. We can listen to what women want, collect data to see where they are underrepresented, and understand why. We can add barriers between roads and existing bike lanes. Personally, I feel unsafe riding in an unprotected bike lane next to fast moving traffic. And I am not alone, when GPS data was analyzed, women were more likely to go out of their way to find a safer biking route than and avoid riding in traffic. And finally, organize and connect existing bike infrastructure around practical destinations so that women can run errands by bike.