A study conducted by the University of Turin looked at and found various reasons why fewer women cycle than men in urban areas. Strava data was used looking across four years (2014 – 2018) and in 61 cities across the US, UK, Italy and the Benelux area. It showed that only one in four trips by bike were made by women, which is a pretty significant difference!
Better infrastructure for bikes is a well-known factor in contributing to increased rates of cycling. So, of course, it was found that in areas where road safety was prioritised, women cycled more. By improving features on the street, urban environments are made more accessible to a wider range of people.
Potential barriers to the uptake of cycling by women:
- A perception that streets are not safe to cycle on
- High-speed traffic
- High air pollution
- Lower wealth
- Night-light emissions
- Gender inequality
In England, the study found that men not only ride their bikes more frequently, they cover longer distances too. Some countries in Europe were found to be exceptions to the pattern, including Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands where women made up almost half of all cyclists. This then proves that the gap is not inherently linked to gender but rather includes ‘place-specific barriers’ that should be identified and removed so that cycling can be equally accessible for all.
The study looked into some of these more specific place-based barriers and found that female cycling rates were higher in flatter cities, which could be for a number of reasons – whether structural, morphological or cultural. For example, if women are more likely to be carrying children or groceries on their bikes, this would be more difficult in a hilly city.
These results suggest that providing dedicated lanes on the roads for bikes or making low-speed limit zones bigger may not have a great impact in these situations. They could, however, be used alongside other incentives, for example, cities could provide communal e-bikes or encourage the use of these.
Another association found a link between higher air pollution and lower rates of female cycling. Though this may be indirectly linked to another cause.
The study determined that the provision of an unprotected cycleway led to females feeling safer and therefore resulted in higher rates of females cycling. So, this means that a shared cycleway could be better than nothing (although city planners shouldn’t stop at this point and instead should work towards making roads safe for everyone).
Another point highlighted that relatively wealthier cities and cities with a lower degree of night-light emissions resulted in more equal numbers of cyclists by gender, though it’s not clear why.
They go on to say that there are so many gender-specific barriers that go beyond safety in the streets and these should be considered fully if this intends to be researched further. These could be cultural, psychological and environmental.
The issue is, of course, complex and multifaceted. Gender inequality in wider society may also play a role and therefore the issue is much more deeply rooted. The issue continues to exist and so there is no one-size-fits-all fix for cities across the world. Taking multiple approaches by individual cities is required to make cycling more accessible for all, as well as speaking directly to those who experience inequality to understand first-hand experiences.