more on women and bikenomics

More fuel to the fiery discussion about women, bikes and economics! The debate keeps getting juicier and I love it. The more we talk about the issue, the greater the chances that the story will make it to the pages of the New York Times!

Oh wait - it has! Twice in the past week for example.

It's safety, stupid!
Women, Uneasy, Still Lag as Cyclists in New York City

And what would make women feel safer? One word - INFRASTRUCTURE!
The Bicycle Dividend

Look - I can write about bikes and fashion 'til I'm blue in the face, but until our state and city governments - FEDERAL, even - drop some serious spending on building a safe, convenient and friendly bicycle infrastructure, I don't believe North America will ever see the levels of women (and men) cycling for transportation as you do in Europe and Asia - to go to work and play, dressed in normal clothing, as if cycling is a normal way to go. Yes, there are pockets on this continent like in Portland, but I believe we need to keep our representatives accountable for keeping the dream alive all over this country.

Thank you, and please let me know what YOU think!


Unknown said...

I'm tired of that same store and owner getting all the #BikeNYC press.

I think biking in NYC is intimidating but after one learns about their rights and responsibilities, one feels empowered.

I think it's important for NORMAL LADIES like ME to be on the streets. Our numbers will grow!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I live in Arizona and don't have representation that is interested in my concerns or the concerns of most of the people in my blu-ish district. I agree though that infrastructure is the key, which we have a lot more of where I live than do other communities. What I like to see more of here is for cycling as a means of transport to be better encouraged by the movers and shakers here. Largely it is viewed as recreational and bike commuting is frivilous. When commented upon about how cute I look on my bike, I am quick to point out that the decision to sell a car and start bike commuting was made out of economic necessity. This blog and others served to inspire me and take the pain out of selling my Beetle. Knowing I could go to work still looking like a professional woman was important to me but I'm game for change and not one to perseverate on all the perceived risks out there. I like the infrastructure my community has to offer but I don't see it actively encouraged as a means of making living in an high-cost of living area other than by the aleady converted. It's sad that in these economic times we're worried about auto sales and new housing starts while most of us have less money to spend and terrified that of loosing our job, even if it's one we hate. Meanwhile there are changes that we as a nation could be making, like embracing more affordable transportation alternatives and it's dismissed as creeping socialism or not something acceptable to the American way of life. I love traveling to those pockets of more progressive thought like Portland and SF. They give me hope but most of the time I just suspect I was born in the wrong country.

Anonymous said...

We in Montreal are way ahead and getting closer and closer to Europe as the years pass.
1.Already, almost 50% of our cyclists are women.
2.Lots of babies being carrried around fearlessly.
3.This year I noticed greater racial diversity: many a black woman (the hardest group to convert), asian folks, latinos etc. and not only the younger ones.
4.Older folks, both men and women.
5.Less and less helmets.
6.Plenty of newbies.

So please do not generalise when talking about North America: We are in North America too but in a total different league. Specify you mean the US. And even at that, you never know what could happen that would bring about the change faster than anyone would have thought...

Kristin Tieche said...

@ Julie - You are definitely among those in NORTH AMERICA that inspire other women to get on their bikes. Keep on keepin' on, girlfriend.

@ She rides - ditto. Keep doing what you're doing. Plan public rides with other women if possible. Document! We ride in solidarity with you! You were born in the right place! Next time I'm in AZ, I'll ride with you.

@ Anonymous - Congratulations that Montreal has become such a bike-friendly city. I have always loved Montreal and its individual spirit! However, I do mean North America and NOT the U.S. There are studies that have been conducted throughout our continent that show that in general fewer women ride bikes for transportation. I'm glad that Montreal is leading the way with bike-share programs, like Bixi and infrastructure that makes women feel safe to ride. If only San Francisco had a bikeshare program, I think we'd see people out in droves on their bikes.

Still though, Montreal is ONE city in North America. Canadian, American and Mexican cities still have a long way to go to match Western European standards of bicycle infrastructure. I feel much safer riding in cities like Paris and Barcelona because of their city-wide bike infrastructure than I do at home here in SF. I think Vancouver has a decent bike infrastructure, but not as good as Portland, Paris or BCN.

Also when I refer to North America, I am referring to recent articles that have been written and studies that have been conducted on the state of women and biking on our continent as a whole, not just the U.S.

Thanks for your input though!

Anonymous said...

I agree Julie. Empowerment comes more from making the choice act rather than to just wait until someone else has made things safe. If I had listened to alll the warnings about how dangerous this or that activity was I'd never leave my house. I insist on being able to use my bike on the road and it is my responsibility to know the rules of the road

Kristin Tieche said...

I get comments from non-bikers all the time - "Don't you know how dangerous it is?" And honestly, I really don't feel endangered, or else I wouldn't be on the road. You can confidently take a lane, use your hand signals, ride at night with lights, and protect yourself on your bike (as you would as a pedestrian or even a driver) when you are out there in traffic.

I think our presence as women on bikes out there in city traffic does make a difference and influence among other women who could and should be bikers.

Anonymous said...

@ Kristin

Hi there,
I was referring to recent studies as well, in particular this one:


You might want to examine page 74 carefully. Please note that the situation has evolved pretty dramatically since that study as we started experiencing traffic jams in bike lanes in recent years (yet another topic) and there are more women now than ever.
You can see on that chart that Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver lead the pack, i.e. the three major canadian cities.

Obviously, something is different in Canada than in the US. And it is not the infrastructure, as it pretty much sucks just the same believe me.
There is a certain spirit that is different, particularly in Quebec. Less agressivity, something more mellow, more Euro-centric... That makes it less frightful for women. Maybe it's due to these 4 downtown university campuses...? A more pinko spirit?
We do not have this perception that cycling is a male thing, nobody finds it odds or out of place, no hooting or sneers.

Now, I am not saying that Canada is a cycling paradise, far from it (BTW Vancouver's infrastructure is totally sub-standard). But, the gender gap is minimal, especially these days. Montreal has an extremely high cycling rate and female participation rate in neighbourhoods with complete sub-par infrastructure (think Plateau, Rosemont etc.).
There is something else to it.

See p.8 and 19, of the same reports.


Kristin Tieche said...

Thanks, for the report, Sophie. Will read it thoroughly. I love the Plateau. Amazing neighborhood! I love Canada, too, as you might already know. ;-)

Kristin Tieche said...

Sophie, I just took a look at that report. Great stats and very interesting! Canada definitely has a little more of a European edge, with a dash of socialism, that doesn't exist so much in the U.S. Agreed. And I'm impressed that Canada leads the way with % of women cyclists in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. However, the other graphs still show that cities like Portland and SF are still ahead in the numbers of cyclists using the bike for transportation. So we're both right, and as a continent have a long way to go to catch up with Western European standards. Great research. I'm happy to be aware of it, so thanks so much for sharing.

Deborah said...


Thanks so much for keeping the conversation going with this series! It's a really important one. I ended up putting my thoughts into a blog post (http://loopframelove.blogspot.com/2011/06/gender-gap.html)
that ended up becoming a discussion of what our personal barriers are to riding our bicycles more frequently and what helps us overcome them. We're really lucky to live in a place where the infrastructure makes it possible to live car-light even in the suburbs, so for me & my co-blogger Angel the barriers are both
1. finding an affordable arrangement that allows us to haul kids and cargo (and which arrangement works best changes pretty quickly as the kids grow), and
2. the psychological barriers that get bigger when you have more kids, more errands, a longer distance, or a shorter time-frame to deal with.

Riding in a social setting and having a local resource when we first started really helped us get comfortable. I imagine that bike shares in cities like Montreal are helping in much the same way. I wonder whether bike sharing programmes also help to counter the perception that riding your bike is risky, or the perception among some demographics that only the poor ride bikes, so that minorities who didn't previously ride start to take it up? I look forward to some actual studies that examine that!

I think when a city was built makes a huge difference too; it might be easier to implement programmes like bike shares in cities that already have a lively pedestrian culture and are largely unchanged from their pre-WW2 dense, human-scale design. That could help to explain Montreal's rapid successes that Sophie has mentioned. Certainly being in a Canadian city with liberal politics isn't enough all by itself to encourage women to ride, or I wouldn't be a relative rarity here in Edmonton or my hometown of Halifax who gets asked, "Isn't that risky?", all the time.

Anonymous said...

@ Kristen

Totally agree with you.

The problem in Canada, especially in Montreal at least, is that cycling practice is very concentrated in certain downtown neighbourhoods where the modal share is super high (20% and more), and then the rest of the city is pretty much like any other typical suburb where only diehard hard-asses cycle.
When you live and frequent these neighbourhoods, you feel like you're in Copehagen. You see even more women on bikes than men. It's super safe, cool and fun to bike in there. And then, you tend to organise your life around this lifestyle. And you become a kind of clique, think williamsburg...

This is what statistics cannot show, unfortunately.
Another thing that stats don't show is bike usage other than commuting. See, I for example exclusively bike except in the winter, even when it rains. Yet, I do not work so I do not commute, so I am not in these statistics...
We have 4 downtown campuses (McGill, UdM, UQAM and Concordia) with big biking communities. These folks are not in the stats either unless they work, which they don't necessarily do.

Anyways, stats are nice, you get an overall picture, and then you have direct experience.
I biked in NY in 2008 and felt pretty safe even in Manhattan (Staten Island was hell though) while my husband shat in his pants all along and called my safety perception "unconsciousness". Go figure. Stats say cycling in NYC is bad and unsafe.
In reverse, I did not feel safe in Boston, not even in Cambridge, around the Harvard campus!! Again, go figure...


Anonymous said...

@ Deborah

When the Bixi came along, the mainstream cycling practice was already established. By that I mean that it was already normal for a person to cycle, man or woman. Not that everybody does it, far from it, but nobody is surprised, shocked, or thinks it is weird. Folks with babies cycle by and people think it is cute, even though they would not do it. Nobody thinks it is irresponsible (never heard that one). "The poor only cycle" was already an old cliche.
The stigma we do have on the other hand is that cycling is pinko, bobo, hippy or hipster pick your choice. Truth is, it is.
Montreal proper (in-town) is very leftish which explains cycling rates in part. I guess the pinko politics are what the "special Montreal spirit" is made of.

Now Montreal didn't have any rapid success. We've had separated bike lanes since the 1980's. Actually, other cities are catching up on the infrastructure front. We have not done much in recent years. We've always had a good harcore group who kept the cycling practice alive with women leading the pack (think Claire Morissette).

The Bixi effect on the other hand is something special on its own. It pulled people from buses and metro onto bikes as opposed to the UK where users are often already cyclists who don't want to park their bikes on the streets.
Bixi never pulled anyone from cars.
But it boosted critical mass on the lanes (we do have bike traffic jams now) and on the streets.

But more importantly, it brought all kind of weird folks onto bikes: wobbles galore, endless sudden braking, cell phone maniacs, fashionistas in stilettos with chiwawas on the lap, all kinds of dangerous intersection behaviour all the while paying strictly no attention to what is going on (cell phone usually), folks who cycle steep downhills protected under umbrellas (one-handed), folks who read books while cycling, all kinds of counter flow cycling (so much that the city is making it legal now), helmets have been diluted for good... Stuff you used to see only in Europe such as side by side biking holding hands, the girlfriend sitting on the back rack, on the knees or even laid across the handle-bar, I even saw on couple face-to-face, kissing while the boyfriend was cycling with one hand... granted, the lane was separated from traffic...
I saw all of the above with my own eyes.

All of that stuff is specific to Bixi: folks on their own bike don't do that.
But nobody complains... and they are no accidents as a result to these behaviours. Cyclists are happy to see total cycling mass increase. These behaviours force cars to pay more attention, and greater care from cars encourage even more of that behaviour.
And overall, in Montreal, people don't not formalise over that kind of thing. It reinforced to whole pinko feeling, for better or worse.
Folks in cars will bitch at the "freaking hippies" or "damned pinkos", write to papers to bitch... But when looking for a neighbourhood to move in, guess which one they'll choose.

The real challenge I guess is to increase to scope and areas of the cycling practice... Reach the suburbs...
And of course, improve the infrastructure, definitely.


Anonymous said...

To illustrate the point... This was forwarded to me:


Stuff of this kind is actually quite common...


Kristin Tieche said...

Sophie, I think the difference in Montreal is what you've said here: "We've had separated bike lanes since the 1980's." Having the infrastructure in there for decades is key: If you build it, they will come.

Love all the descriptions of what folks are doing on the Bixi (which couldn't have existed if the infrastructure wasn't there). I get the feeling that people like that think that biking is romantic. And come to think of it, they're right. ;-)

Anonymous said...

@ Kristin

Absolutely. But remember that said infrastructure was not proposed or handed over to us: people had to fight tremendously for it. Intense lobbying for years coming from all kinds of social groups and community organisations, all on the left side. People got arrested, some got even some jail time. It is all a result of social demands and conflicts.
So it does require a certain political mindset at some point.
Those in power right now and in recent years do not view cycling as part of their agenda, which explains the stalling.
As "she rides a bike" already said nicely, the political environment needs to be progessive enough.
Otherwise, all the bixi weirdos would have been ticketed/arrested long ago, which simply does not happen. Police kind of turns a (romantic?) blind eye.