A new study into the factors that prevent women from riding bikes in urban areas provides insights that its author says can help city planners boost active transport.
Dr Lauren Pearson from Monash University’s Sustainable Mobility and Safety Research Group says in greater Melbourne, there are two men cycling for every one woman.
To find out what was going on she surveyed 717 people across ten Melbourne LGAs about factors that encouraged or prevented them riding a bike.
“Gender differences were stark in terms of the barriers,” she told Government News.
“We were really surprised at just how substantial these differences were, and how many women were reporting these concerns.”
The study also revealed that 77 per cent of women were interested in riding a bike, suggesting a “massive potential” to increase riding.
Cycling infrastructure built for blokes
Dr Pearson says it’s evident that a lot of existing cycling infrastructure has been built with men – especially male commuters – in mind.
Councils tend to build cycling infrastructure based on where the highest cycling volumes are, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect womens’ cycling patterns or needs, she says.
Instead, they should be considering the needs and preferences of female cyclists, such as more separated infrastructure for local trips, and women-only bike workshops.
Confidence around traffic
The online survey and follow up interviews revealed that women lacked confidence when cycling in or near traffic compared to men, and more women said having protected bike lanes or off-road paths would encourage them to cycle.
“Provision of infrastructure that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic may support more women to ride a bike through reducing motor vehicle interactions, reducing the risk of motor vehicle collision injury, reducing the potential for aggressive behaviour from motor vehicle drivers and by allowing sufficient space for inexperienced riders,” the study said.
Knowledge about bikes
Women also lacked confidence when it came to buying, maintaining and fixing a bike, and sometimes felt unsupported by male staff in bike stores and council-run maintenance courses.
“We found of all the women who were asked about what would happen if they had a flat tyre, they said they had no idea, in contrast to men,” Dr Pearson said.
“That came back to this entrenched discourse around mechanics and bikes being a male-based thing.
“Some women tried to reach out to councils for bike mechanics courses, but what was available was very specialist or run by men for men.”
Women in the study described wanting to ride with their children in protected infrastructure or where there was low traffic volume, and low speed traffic.
They also expressed concern about a lack of connectivity between available infrastructure that was suitable for riding with children, meaning they had to take detours to find infrastructure that they considered safe.
Physical fitness was also identified as barrier to riding a bike in twice as many women as men, while, a higher proportion of women reported not having enough storage on a bike as a barrier.
Nearly half of the women in the survey reported well-lit areas as an enabler of them riding their bike.
Encouraging female cyclists
Dr Pearson says ebikes could provide a solution for women who are lacking confidence or need to carry heavier loads or transport children, with councils potentially playing a role in providing better ebike infrastructure near places like libraries, schools and shopping centres, or subsidising subscription bike services.
The study says that to increase bike riding, future planning must consider the needs and perspectives of women and create spaces that enable equitable participation.
“It’s about planning for the trips that arent’ taken as well as those that are,” Dr Pearson says.
“Women want to make local trips and we need to make sure we’re building the infrastructure to support this, not just thinking about the people that are already riding, and having that gender lense on all design decisions.”
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