How Can You Tell If Your City is Bikeable? Hint: Count the Women.
Image via: rlsycle on Flickr.com
What does it take to make a city bike friendly? Bike lanes? Isolated bike lanes? More bikes than cars? All of the above? In a recent article by Scientific American, the indicator species for determining how bikeable a city is is...women, and particularly the number of women on bikes. In European cities, male to female biking ratios are nearly equal, so why are men two times more likely to hop on a bike?One reason the article, "How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road" notes is that women are more risk averse than men, which is something that came up when talking with Luna Chix rider Karen Rehder on why it's so important to have women-only mountain biking classes. Thus, cities that are set up with bike-friendly infrastructure are more inviting to women, and cautious bikers in general. According to the study, women are more likely to veer from the shortest route in order to access bike lanes that are separate from roadways.
Okay, so to get the masses biking, you need infrastructure (bike lanes, for example), but you also need lanes that go someplace. If women do most of the errands, then they want bike paths and lanes that take them where they need to go. Creating bike lanes that go through parks and wooded areas, while nice and peaceful, are not particularly helpful to the mother with the baby strapped to her bike hoping to hit the post office and supermarket before dark. Plus, just from a safety aspect, sending bike lanes into areas that are dark and wooded will keep women off bikes and in cars.
Urban planners are now realizing that in order to get more people on bikes, they need to discover what seems practical to women and implement that. Some cities are implementing programs that specifically target women's fears, thus making them not a problem anymore. Women on Bikes, in Portland, OR, helps women fix flat tires, and New York City just installed 5 miles of separated bike lanes.
EcoVelo also chimed in on the idea with a few personal anecdotes about women on bikes. Each has a tale about what it took to get them on two wheels, and comfortable. One even reports on a Dutch woman who moved to the US and no longer bikes. Bummer. Hopefully that won't be the case for much longer. :Scientific AmericanMore on Women and BikingDoes a Woman on a Bike Need a Weapon?Women's Bicycle Racing Takes Off in Portland6 Reasons The World Needs More Girls on BikesBike Belles: Sustrans Raises its Voice for Female Cycle Safety