Closing the Gender Gap in City Cycling

Studies show that female cyclists prefer separated bike lanes.

Getting local ladies pedalling is key to boosting overall ridership

Even a short pedal around town reveals many Vancouver cyclists are male, middle-aged and squeezed into comically tight activewear made of elastic synthetic fibers. It’s a similar tale across North America, but the continent’s leading urbanists are now looking to get more women onto bikes in a strategy they hope will pull cycling into the world of utility and open it up to other demographics of riders.

“If you look at the percentage of total bike trips made by women as opposed to men, in northern Europe there’s virtually no difference,” cycling advocate John Pucher told a packed room of sustainable transportation enthusiasts at a book tour stop at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre campus last Friday evening. Pucher is a professor at Rutgers University, where he’s been researching urban travel behaviour with a focus on the safety and convenience of walking and cycling for the past 15 years.

“If you look at North America, Australia and the UK we tend to have much much lower levels of women cycling and that’s something we need to really do something about,” he said. “In those countries where you get rid of this gender gap, where you have as many women cycling as men, you have high overall levels of cycling, you also have high levels of children cycling and high levels of seniors cycling, and you have all levels of ability,” he added, citing data from his latest book City Cycling, a 2012 publication by MIT Press.

“Women wanted physically separated facilities. They did not want to be cycling in heavy, mixed traffic on arterials.”

Women already make up 41 per cent of all adult cyclists here in Vancouver and city hall is well aware that separated infrastructure is key to closing the remaining gender gap.

“When it comes to our bikeways, we actually want more girls and women… because it’s an indicator of the quality and the comfort and the safety of our city’s infrastructure,” said Dale Bracewell, manager of active transportation at the City of Vancouver.

According to the latest City of Vancouver data on the often controversial Hornby Street separated bike lane, the per cent of female cyclists using that corridor jumped from 28 per cent of all adult bike trips in 2010 (at which time there was only a painted bike lane on the street) to 37 per cent in 2012 (a year after the separation was installed).

“We are becoming a safer city to cycle in,” a beaming Bracewell said.

Here’s proof: citywide cycling levels jumped 41 per cent between 2008 and 2011, while bicycle-car collisions fell by 17 per cent over the same time period. We now suddenly find Vancouver home to that coveted safety in numbers effect active transportation advocates have been praising for years, which means, like them or not, more separated bike lanes will soon be coming down the pipe.