Bike Infrastructure Is a Women's Issue



And also, I'm so sorry Letter Writer has to ride on Spokane streets. The city's transportation infrastructure hasn't improved since the '60s, when my parents lived there.
Good points the authoress makes. It will there fore become incumbent on women to get more involved in the process. Don't leave it up to the men. Of course as stated women are busy taking the kids from point A to point B. So how does a woman state her view point to decision makers when time is limited? That is the rub.
Fucking awesome letter. Thanks, TVDinner!
@1: It's not that bad, actually. I commuted all around Seattle and the Eastside for 20 years, and it's actually pretty chill here, comparatively speaking.

And Cienna, if I were a chihuahua I'd run around in circles for five minutes every time I see you.
First question I'd ask is a basic statistical one.

Has the number of women cyclists actually decreased due to: a. age, b. perceived safety, c. reduction in women in the workforce due to policies that have laid off vast numbers of women who work for government and non-profits?

And has the number actually decreased, or has the number of male cyclists increased and women have just not increased as much?

Or is this an observational inference due to women clustering in quantity around child-bearing years, having kids, and thus not cycling due to the need to transport children, because to be frank many men don't adjust their schedules to transport kids, but keep biking alone.
So true. Drives me nuts to see super spiffy bike facilities in recreational areas. I mean, it's great and all, but how 'bout a buffered ride down 2nd, or Broadway?? Nnggghh.
@4, if you were a chihuahua, I'd carry you around in a purse filled with cocktail wieners and let you sleep behind my knees.

Also: That pic is adorable.
This is the most intelligent thing I've read on the gender gap in cycling. Much appreciated, TVD.
TVDinner, you're one of my favorite commenters here! Awesome letter.

This is one of the reasons I hate "Vehicular Cycling." Sure, it's a useful tool for a certain subset of cyclists, but it does nothing for the vast majority of people who are not cyclists. Personally I'm not afraid to bomb down the middle of 45th at rush hour, but then I also know that I am an outlier. And you know what? I prefer the Burke-Gilman anyways, even I am technically more likely to get into a collision. It's more pleasant despite having to go slower to be able to avoid all the wobbly cyclists.

@4 - "And Cienna, if I were a chihuahua I'd run around in circles for five minutes every time I see you."

You totally win Slog for the day for that. If you hadn't already for the post itself. But I am loving the idea of being able to show how happy I am to see someone this way. :-)
Will, no one knows why the number of women cyclists has decreased. No one has studied that, to my knowledge. I can say that several studies do show a relationship between segregated bicycle facilities and increased ridership among women. New York found a stunning correlation between the two, which you can read about here.

I wondered if the percentage of women cyclists had declined for the same reason, and the truth is I don't know for sure. I need to look into it further. John Pucher, a leading scholar on this subject, doesn't appear to think so. In fact, he's the one who I first saw cite those numbers in an article published this year.
TVDinner, Thank You for your fantastic letter! What amazingly good points you raise!

Also: you and your daughter are HELLA CUTE!!

Thanks, all of you, for the kind words. And emor: I have a two page diatribe about John Forester's vehicular cycling bullshit in the intro to my thesis. When I'm all done I'm seriously thinking about taking my copy of "Effective Cycling" out to the range and shooting a hole in it. Mind you, I've never shot a gun before, but I live in Spokane. It shouldn't be too hard to find one.
I don't think there's a gender gap in Seattle with all the cunts I see on bicycles.
I love your letter, TV Dinner. I have returned to bike commuting after being away for about 20 years (female, age 45, no kids but lots of other schlepping).

I would describe myself as a somewhat fearless rider (but prudent, with tons of lights, blaze orange vest, bright yellow helmet) and commute 8 miles each way on roads with almost no "paint". I am definitely an outlier--I see your concerns expressed all the time by the other women I work with who might like to try bike commuting. I have to say, though, that of ~10 regular bike commuters at my workplace, 40% of us are female.

I'm not sure there's much of an inequity with recreational bike trail separation, at least here in Cincinnati. It's nonexistent. I reassure women by telling them they are far safer biking in the city than on country roads, based on the fatality stats for our area. I think education (e.g., League of American Bicyclists) also helps tremendously. I'm not sure how realistic it is to expect much urban lane separation here in the conservative midwest--though Minneapolis has made incredible strides:…

Sorry for babbling, but thanks again for your letter, and thanks to Dominic for posting it.
nit-picking points: "23% of all cyclists are women" How many are girls? Or are we still talking about commuters?

24% of women commute on bikes. That means (assuming you were talking about commuters in my first question, and the only categories are "women" and "men") combined with your 23% statistic, there are .23/.24 (~96%) as many women as there are commuting cyclists. Can that really be true in the US?

Don't mean to give you a hard time, just be more clear in your paper.
@4, I wasn't reading closely enough to realize the letter writer was you! I frequently admire your thoughtful, funny comments, so thanks for chiming in on this topic.

I meant mostly that Spokane streets are cracked and degrading like hell, at least they are in the downtown core where I tended to spend a lot of time while my grandmother was alive. Other family members live in outlying neighborhoods, so I can't call it the same over the entire city, but I think it's fair to make a judgment based on how a city takes care of its downtown area. Of course the entire eastern half of the state is poorer than King County, so I'm not going to cast blame on specific administrations.
I bike a couple thousand miles a year in a flat, desert city, and I've spent enough time in Spokane to realize I could never do that there; hills, weather, narrow roads and traffic madness. I admire you for your toughness and your scholarship, cool subject I never thought of. Ride safe you two. How's the route to the new TJs?
My main point is we're measuring different things, and job losses for women will reduce cycling commuters, as will raising kids.

Society isn't fair in its distribution of child rearing in practice, although the many reasons given add up (e.g. breadwinner effect, maybe women now have cars and before didn't, getting married, expectations, etc).
I wonder how many women don't ride to work because of wardrobe issues?
15 years ago, I rode a bike around Spokane often, but now I am afraid to because the potholes are so ridiculous. I also find it funny that the streets in the Valley are nice and smooth.
#20 Yes, hate to say it, but a lot of women say safety concerns because "helmet hair" sounds vain.
Even though it sounds trivial, I think "helmet hair" is a significant reason to remove helmet laws (that, and helmets make a bike-share program all but impossible). In the US we feel we need a full spandex suit and bike shoes. Most bike commuters in Europe just wear what they're going to wear to work. This can save a large amount of time, and removes the need for showers at work. Afraid of sweating? Just don't bike as fast.

I wouldn't ride across town in traffic without a helmet, no matter what the law says. But across my neighborhood on residential streets to the grocery store? Sure. (that said, "helmet hair" is not an issue on my starting-to-bald head)
Will: Women are now more than fifty percent of the workforce.

starsandgarters: Love you too, and I have always loved your handle. I rode a cargo ride in Seattle on Labor Day this year, and I can honestly say I was taken aback by the condition of Seattle streets. I think Spokane got spanked by the state a while back for letting the streets deteriorate and has had to make a number of improvements. Thanks, westside, for the tax dollars!

Matt: Great question, and thanks for it. 23-24% of bicycle commute trips are performed by women. Does that clarify? You also hint at another weakness of the data. The census only measures commute trips, so those are trips for people of commuting age. I checked, and they don't ask about trips to school, so I assume that excludes counting girls. I should have used 24% to be consistent; the truth is the data are squishy on this, and they vary significantly from city to city. Washington State doesn't even count gender when it does its bike count in the fall, so all we have to rely on are these not-so-great Census bureau numbers. Also, one study I read found that women ride their bikes more for non-commute trips, so those obviously won't be counted at all.

emma's bee: I haven't studied Cincinnati at all. Glad to hear you're braving the infrastructure, such as it is. One terrific alternative to expensive, segregated bike lanes are bicycle boulevards, which are largely responsible (I think) for the increase in cycling in Portland and Minneapolis. I cannot find any solid data to indicate that more women are biking in Minneapolis, so if you run across any, please let me know. tvdinner (at) thewrongaddress dot com. I am not crazy about the League of American Bicyclists. They do some good advocacy work, but they're too vehicular-cycling friendly for my tastes.

bedipped: There's a painted lane along Southwest Boulevard, which deadends a couple of blocks from TJs. Not my favorite route, because there's pretty fast-moving traffic and a lot of exhaust to inhale when going uphill, but I am obviously a woman who takes her food seriously. I make the trek, my friend, I make the trek.
Helmet hair and wardrobe issues are the second reason women cite not riding a bike. Lots of women cyclists are seeking innovative approaches to that problem. I ride in jeans, because women like me really ought not to wear spandex.

And yet even when we get a golden opportunity to create bicycle infrastructure -- truly segregated tracks -- we squander it.

Case in point -- the LINK route along Rainier Ave. Billions upon billions spent in planning and building. Where's the bike lane? This is suppose to be Seattle's ne plus ultra of walkable transit friendly social engineering.

Did they include a segregated bike lane when they were rebuilding and tearing up the whole avenue?

I don't see it.
@25 there you go imposing your cultural values on American men again.

Wonder how women bike with saris on, btw ... must be difficult ... same with chadorras and habibs.
@24 Ah, then instead of "the number of women who commute by bicycle" you meant "the percentage of bicycle commuters that are women". Got it. (I was pretty sure it isn't true that 24% of women commute by bike)
@Matt: Yeah, such are the dangers of dashing off a quick email between poopy diapers and servings of peanut butter and honey. Thanks for keeping me honest!
What a great post, and a great thread to go with. Thanks TVDinner!
@24: the link in my previous post gives stats that are pretty impressive for percentage of cyclists who are female:
"Minneapolis is committed to creating separate rights-of-way for bikes (i.e. keeping them a safe distance from cars) wherever feasible. Research shows that most people – including many women, families, and older citizens – are wary of biking alongside motor vehicles on busy streets. Having the option to ride apart from heavy traffic encourages more people to try out biking as a form of transportation. Nationally, only a quarter of riders are women; in Minneapolis, 37 percent are."

I don't know where the stats came from, but the writer (Jay Walljasper) is a solid journalist from way back in his Utne days. You could probably get a source from him.

It is encouraging to read that other midwestern cities (Pittsburgh, Columbus) are trying to follow Mpls' lead.

At the risk of upsetting your thesis, I think women could stand to be more assertive in general--and certainly as cyclists. So I think LAB's efforts are not wasted there. It is helpful for women (and men!) to learn that riding more assertively (while prudently) is also safer.

I understand when one is towing tots it is an entirely different matter.
Huh. Those stats are interesting, emma's bee. I'll follow up on that. I read another piece by Walljasper recently, so he's definitely covering this issue a lot.

I respectfully disagree with your vehicular cycling argument. 30 years of vehicular cycling in the United States has yielded these abysmal results. Doing more of the same will only yield more of the same. Behavior change is a factor, but we've focused way too much on that and not on the infrastructure around us that so deeply influences behavior.
@32: Let me rephrase--in the absence of the infrastructure changes you describe (which would be preferable but are probably never going to happen in much of this country), I believe that prudent assertiveness (vehicular cycling) is safer than timidly hugging the grates.

And, at a population scale, it's also safer than not cycling at all (judging from the harm caused by our country's escalating avg BMI).

Part of the problem is women's *perceptions*--which I optimistically think are easier to change than our infrastructure (at least here in the stone-age parts of the midwest).
I disagree. 30 years of trying to change people's perceptions hasn't worked very well. It's not hard or expensive to retrofit our infrastructure to be more bike-friendly. And the very city you cite as being so amenable for cycling, Minneapolis, has made huge investments in bike infrastructure, and look what happened. Look what's happened in Portland, too.

We can do this! It makes sense economically, ecologically, socially, and democratically. In a nation where we spend roughly 25% of our household income on transportation, second only to housing, doesn't it make sense to invest in a cheap, easily-adapted solution that can dramatically decrease that?
The only thing of value produced by he vehicularist school of thought is that one shouldn't be scared of traffic. Everything they built on that thesis has been utterly ineffective. If it were up to them we wouldn't have the Burke-Gilman/Samammish and Snoqualmie/John Wayne trail systems, which are both amazing and useful.
Interesting points in your letter, TVDinner.

For what it's worth; I've actually ridden a bike around Spokane, and coming from San Francisco—where the roads aren't in much better shape— my experiences were mostly a pleasure as cars tended to cut me a pretty wide path. I think I was mostly considered more a curiosity than an annoyance.

Spokane, of course, has a higher-than-average rate of redneck teenagers that will to fuck with anyone operating something that doesn't require diesel fuel, but we've got our own version of that sort of thing here too, so it's a wash.
So-called "vehicular cycling" is really not a form of transportation, it is an extreme sport enjoyed by the 0.5% of the population that get a thrill from cycling in traffic. They do it because it is dangerous. More power to them but don't expect many people to do it. For the rest of us, women and men the 99.5% who are not into such extreme sports, well designed complete networks of separated facilities with proper intersection treatments are required to encourage cycling.
Hi TVDinner,
Lucky you for getting the opportunity to study this topic. If I could retire right now, I'd make a hobby of analyzing traffic and accident data with the goal of solving design and infrastructure problems.

A couple of questions - is the growing gender gap in America the result of more men cycling or fewer women?

Also, has the percentage of women who cycle relative to all women in the country changed over time? This seems like the most relevant stat towards determining if biking has become more or less attractive to women over the years.
Seandr, I touched on that a bit in 11. Pucher, who cited those numbers in a recent article, asserts that the number of women cyclists has decreased, but I really need to look into those numbers further. I trust his scholarship, so I took his point and carried on, but I do need to research that further.

This degree is costing me $28,000 in tuition alone, much of it in the form of unsubsidized loans. At age 37, with no retirement account, pursuing this subject comes at a hell of a personal cost. I hope you'll be able to realize your fantasy of studying traffic and accident data at a lower one during your golden years.

As someone who grew up in Minnesota and visited there with a bike several times in the past few years, I found the CSM story interesting and generally on target.

Part of why cycling is so well-suited to the Twin Cities, I think, is that the other alternatives there to driving aren't great.

For a northern metro area of its population, it lacks density. The two downtowns are not all that close together. Between them is the U of M which, as the largest U.S. public university in area, is remarkably spread out. In downtown Minneapolis, once you get more than a few blocks in any direction from the the tallest building, it feels like half the cityscape is surface parking lots. So trips that might be walkable in other comparable cities often aren't there – but are bikeable. And though they've made progress in recent years, public transportation there has been inferior since the streetcar system was shut down more than half a century ago.

But after living in San Francisco – and, currently, Pittsburgh – I can see that the roadways are very well maintained there. This, along with that extensive network of dedicated bikeways, may help to explain why women bike there in greater numbers.

I'm not so sure about Walljasper's assertion that Minneapolis was first to roll out a bikeshare program, though. I was in Denver in mid-2009 and theirs seemed pretty well in place then.

Thanks, TV Dinner; your piece caught my interest more than anything I've read in a while, and I hope your work makes a big splash.
@33, all the perceptions bending in the world will not help so long as there are a couple horrendous blocks in the middle of an otherwise mild 4 miles. I know lots of back streets and trails official or not from my pre-baby riding time, but the street that passes over the interstate (Holgate) is too horrible for me even without a kid. And I'm not carrying bike with kid down the stairs to avoid it. So I need infrastructure or I drive.
Thanks, Fred. You raise a really crucial point about the relationship between land use and transportation. Cities function best when they're treated and planned as if they're holistic organisms.
So much chewy goodness on Slog today.

Delicious, TVDinner. Thank you.
Way to go TV Dinner! And, lil TV Dinner is a beautiful girl.
I have encountered many anecdotes that support TVDinner's assessment. So right on!
If bike infrastructure is a women's issue does that make cycling on the existing roadways with traffic phallocratic oppression?

We cannot possibly ever build a complete network of cycling specific infrastructure; it's not ever going to happen, so either we impose a change on roadway culture that emphasizes accommodation and cooperation and predictable behavior, or there will be vast swaths of town to which some people (women apparently) won't be able to go. They'll be trapped in their gyno-ghetto of bikeways and segregated sidepaths.

doesn't sound so good to me.
@37 "So-called "vehicular cycling" is really not a form of transportation, it is an extreme sport enjoyed by the 0.5% of the population that get a thrill from cycling in traffic."

It's both actually. In my younger days I did ride around downtown Boston in rush hour just for fun. Now that I've got responsibilities besides not bereaving me mum I don't do that anymore. But I do ride the streets because that's how I get from point A to point B. I prefer segregated bike lanes but I don't need them.

I don't think lack of bike infrastructure is any reason for anyone to not take a bike if a bike will do the job for them. The more people bike, the more infrastructure we'll get. The more infrastructure we get, the more people will bike. It's a virtuous cycle.
@37 and 47, Vehicular cycling is often mischaracterized and sanctimoniously maligned. For another view see Keri Caffrey:…
Tvdinner, I'm chair of spokane's bike advisory board. Can you look me up? Check "2nd ave wants bike infrastructure" on Facebook. You can reach me there. Thanks.
Hi all,
There IS a better way, it's already here and it's called Neighborhood Greenways. The City of Portland is setting the standard (with 50 miles on the ground in the past 3 years) that provides safe routes to destinations where people -- moms, dads, children, seniors, women -- want to go by walking, biking or other self-propelled modes.

Here in Seattle, there is an exciting, grassroots movement afoot to build our very own network of Greenways. These are low volume, traffic calmed roads, typically one off of arterials. They have protected crossings and speed bumps to ensure that speeds don't exceed 20 mph. They may also have linear park features like trees that clean the air and waste-water treatments such as bio-swales to filter the water running into Puget Sound. Over a hundred people in 9 neighborhoods have been collaborating to come up a list of starter segments in each neighborhood that will eventually connect to the network. Already under construction are Greenways in Wallingford and Beacon Hill.

Greenways have the potential to attract women and others who would like to ride or walk but feel uncomfortable using the current bike lanes and Sharrows and sidewalks along noisy, arterials with fast moving traffic. When a roadway is safe enough for a child to ride a bike to school, you can bet that women will be out there too taking the kids to the library, shopping and running errands.
There is a blog that has it all on bicycle infrastructure:

Very effectively does away with all the myth and excuses that prevent a larger bicycling share. E.g. "Vehicular cycling" is a survival technique born out of adapting to the prevailing car-only conditions. It's not something that will bring us more cyclists and therefore more infrastructure. Forget it. After some time you gotta discard things that haven't worked for decades and embrace the things that actually have worked.
Cute kid. Glad to see you looking happy, woman. Oh yeah, and kudos on your continued uppity-ness.