Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


What will encourage more women to bike?

More women will bike if it's safe, communal, and inclusive. The bike indu­stry should also stop focusing on "mamils," or "middle-aged men in lycra." Those were some conclusions from the first-ever National Women Cycling Forum, held on Tuesday in conjunction with the National Bike Summit.


Photo by born1945 on Flickr.

The forum assembled the best minds in women's cycling, including panelists Cornelia Neal of the Royal Netherlands Embassy; Elysa Walk, General Manager of Giant Bicycles; Veronica Davis of Black Women Bike DC; and keynote speaker Sue Macy, an author and historian.

Macy shared fascinating facts and photos from her book, Wheels of Change, which details how cycling shaped the history of American women. Historically, bicycling offered women autonomy and self-reliance. As Susan B. Anthony put it, cycling "changed women."

The Netherlands' Neal said that encouraging women to cycle starts with safety: "If bicycling is safe, people will get on their bike." She reminded the crowd that her country hasn't always been the pinnacle of bike mobility. In fact, the Netherlands was once as car-oriented as the US is today. Only after the oil crisis hit in the 1970s did the country change policies to make bicycle travel a top priority.

Veronica Davis, a Greater Greater Washington contributor, said a "Complete Streets" policy encourages planning for all modes of travel and travelers of all abilities. Next month, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments expects to issue a Complete Streets template local jurisdictions can use to develop their own policies.

"Women-only groups are critical to generating momentum for women" said Davis, who co-founded Black Women Bike, a DC-based women's cycling group that has grown phenomenally in less than a year. Women are often more "communal" than men, so groups such as Black Women Bike, or Birmingham, Alabama-based Magic City Cycle Chix can encourage and attract women to talk about and ride bikes.

In this video, Davis talks about why she started Black Women Bike, and what the group does:

Speakers said the bicycle industry needs to focus less on "mamils," or "middle-aged men in lycra." Advertisers should depict more women, more bikes need to be designed to female tastes, and bike shops should cater more to women's needs. One panelist said shops could start by "keeping the bathrooms cleaner."

"To get women to bike, you can't operate in a vacuum," added Davis, saying women need to be involved in advocacy, planning, and government offices from public health to land use planning. Says Davis: "You don't have people biking to school because half the time schools are all the way across the city." Panelists noted that more girls are also needed in engineering, pointing to Fionnuala Quinn, a local DC bike advocate and engineer who helped plan the forum.

The Forum's sendoff message was simple: the state of bicycling as a transportation mode depends on getting more women on two wheels. In order to get people to take bike transportation seriously, it's important for everyone, women included, to "bike as much as possible."

Jenifer Joy Madden is a multi-media journalist who lives in Vienna. She is vice chair of the Fairfax County Transportation Advisory Commission, but her opinions here are her own. Winner of the 2012 "Lady Fairfax" award, she was also designated a 2007 Volunteer Fairfax Community Champion for planning and organizing a recreational trail system in northern Vienna. Follow her @TysonsTraveler and read her blog at The Durable Human.  

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The Netherlands, like most of western Europe, is in a period of economic decline. It's chosen to 'go with the decline' by imposing austerity in all manners (including shifting people from automobiles to bicycles), rather than addressing the causes of the economic decline itself and keeping with modern personal transportation means.

Are we similarly 'giving up' and doing the same here? I'd hope not. As a nation we recently took the other view by going the stimulus route vs. the Netherlands and western Europe's austerity choices in reaction to the recent recession. Our choices are bringing us out of the recession, their's aren't. Let's hope we similarly recognise that acceding to 'economic contraction' choices in transportation modes would be no more wise than had we acceded to austerity choices in the government funding.

I.e. The Netherlands is not an example to follow in regards to our transportation choices. For once I'd say that China, which has recently eschewed its heavy dependence on bicycles, is the better example.

by Lance on Mar 22, 2012 11:09 am • linkreport

The shift to cycling in the NL long predated austerity, AFAICT, and is really not connected to it, anymore than China's shift to autos (AND high speed rail, BTW) is connected to authoritarian politics.

Our stimulus was aimed at a balanced system, with investment in roads (especially fixing existing) AND bike/ped AND transit. We should continue that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 22, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

@Lance, is the US economy really booming and are cars really moving it along or are we simply not paying all of our costs?

Sure the stimulus helped, but our federal government still (we started doing this long before 2008) spends 150% of its revenue. When will we start paying that back, never?

As for cars, we still don't charge people for pollution. Nor do we charge people for the right to exclude other uses from (lots and lots) of public land - including other forms of transportation, housing, businesses...

By the same token, Ye Olde Factory that poisons every nearby water way can make a lot of money by not paying to clean up any of the byproducts of production. It's easy to make money when you can shift the cost of production to other people.

by Paul on Mar 22, 2012 11:31 am • linkreport

The transition to an intermodal transportation system in the Netherlands began 40 years ago, so attributing its high bicycle mode share to the recent recession makes absolutely no sense. Painting the Netherlands as an economic basket case makes even less sense. Indeed, using GPD per capita and the Human Develoment Index as measures, the Netherlands is pretty much at the same economic level as the United States. The Netherlands has a GDP per capita of $41,000, which ranks it 9th. The United States comes in at $48,000, which ranks it 8th. The Netherlands scores 0.91 on the Human Development Index, ranking 3rd. The United States also scores 0.91, ranking it 4th. In the case on the Netherlands, that score is an improvement from 2010. I will leave it to the experts to argue about how best to measure the economic health and quality of life of nations, but these are two pretty broadly used measures. Meanwhile, China ranks 90th for GDP per capita ($8,000) and 101st for HDI (0.687).

If this is how the Committee of 100 argues public policy, no wonder bicycling mode share is exploding in DC, new bike lanes are being striped all over town (including NY Ave downtown!) and the new zoning code is being adopted. Keep it up and soon streetcars with overhead wires will blanket the City!

by rg on Mar 22, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

More women will bike if it's safe, communal, and inclusive. And the bike industry should stop focusing on "mamils," or "middle-aged men in lycra."

Just want to point out that it's possible bike shops focus on "mamils" because they keep the local bike shop in business. Most LBS' are hanging on by the skin of their teeth as it is, and they do what they have to do to pay the rent.

If your average non-Lycra wearing person (male of female) spent $3000-$4000 a year on bikes, and a few hundred dollars a month on clothing and equipment, my guess is that the focus of the industry (and the local bike shop) would change pretty quickly.

Anyone out there manage a bike shop? Maybe they could tell us what would happen if they stopped catering to the Lycra-clad Lance wannabees.

by oboe on Mar 22, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

The first paragraph in the first comment is just SO factually incorrect, on multiple levels, that it boggles the mind. I'm speechless here.

by MrTinDC on Mar 22, 2012 12:19 pm • linkreport

The first paragraph in the first comment is just SO factually incorrect, on multiple levels, that it boggles the mind. I'm speechless here.

You must be new here.

by MLD on Mar 22, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

I'm a bit stumped by the first paragraph as well (maybe for different reasons).

Considering Oboe's point, why would it serve the industry best to not cater to it's largest consumer demographic?

I've already voiced my displeasure with the "Black Women Bike" group but I don't get how men. vs. women moves the conversation forward in any substantive manner.

by HogWash on Mar 22, 2012 12:32 pm • linkreport

I'm curious what your displeasure with the Black Women Bike group was, Hogwash? I didn't really get a men v women vibe from this article, although its possible I'm misunderstanding your point. The point to me is that improving safety for bicyclists will get more women onto bikes, but that's hardly at the expense of men, as it would probably get more men onto bikes as well.

by David on Mar 22, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

@ Lance: The Netherlands, like most of western Europe, is in a period of economic decline.

Well. True and not true. Holland has double-dipped (a bit), something that the US so far has avoided by running a large deficit and having the FED hand out free money to banks so they can buy US treasuries. Holland can not do this being part of the euro, and has factually been buying Greek treasuries...

Other numbers:

US/Dutch/Greek 2011 deficit: 8.9%, 4.8%, 8-9%
US/Dutch/Greek 2011 debt/GDP: 100%, 65%, 140%
US/Dutch/Greek 2011 unemployment: 8.3%, 4.4%, 12%
US/Dutch/Greek 2011 GDP growth: 1.8%, -0.2%, -2.8%

Ask yourself how the US would feel with 4.4% unemployment.

Also, despite having a somewhat odd minority government, the Dutch government is running smoothly and passing budgets nicely in time, something the US hasn't done in more than a decade.

As for the subject of women and biking, I do not see how biking is different for men and women. Differences are not due to biking, but more general. Yes, there are more men in bike ads, but that is true for car ads too. Women might feel less safe on a bike, but so would female pedestrians (and drivers). I see plenty of women in lycra biking on the Mt Vernon trail.

Finally, the new CaBi stations on the Mall has proven once more that if you make biking possible and convenient, people will bike. There is no reason for any Greater Washington government to hold back on implementing more bike infrastructure.

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

As a daily woman bike commuter in the district the majority of women tell me that their outfits, makeup, and no showers at work are the biggest barriers. I personally think these are valid barriers in this city that demands a certain level of professionalism. I have found ways to prevent my skirt from flying up, my heels from cracking, and ways to sometimes salvage my hair.

Women in this city are busy and driven - give them real solutions (ie. not spandex) and I think you will see more of them in the bike lane. Just for the record even in heels and a dress I can still bike faster than some of the men in spandex.

by bikinginheels on Mar 22, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

I agree that it's not the best strategy to focus on the stores because they're just following what they see in the marketplace. If they see women commuters as a fast growing segment they'll respond so the solutions should revolve around environmental factors like the infrastructure and such.

by Canaan on Mar 22, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

@ bikinginheels: I personally think these are valid barriers in this city that demands a certain level of professionalism.

Dutch PM Rutte and VVD-leader Stef Blok biking to the Catshuis (PM's formal residence) where intermediate governmental negotiations are being held (few days old).

Rutte op de fiets

Clip: http://www.zie.nl/video/algemeen/Rutte-op-de-fiets-naar-onderhandelingen/m1fz8flfc7l6

A bit older: Government formation negotiator Donner, coming back from a visit to the Queen (palace in the background). Donner was later minister on three different departments, and is now vice-president of the Council of State, making him the "underking": the most important advisor to the Queen.

Donner op de fiets

Sadly, no Dutch minister biking, but here are Flemish minister of infrastructure Crevits and president of the Flemish parliament Jan Peumans biking:
Crevits op de fiets

Also, more and more buildings with LEED certification offer showers and changing rooms.

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2012 1:39 pm • linkreport

Sadly, no Dutch female minister biking...

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

i agree w/ canaan infrastructure is the most important modifiable contributor to removing barriers that keep women from biking.

WRT to @bikinginheels comment, fashion concerns are important too. Risking opening a can of worms, all the Nederlander women I saw biking in heels also went helmetless (very few biking Nederlanders M or F I saw wore helmets).

We've had this discussion many times about how much safer one is w/-w/o a helmet. We know the fatality rate for bikers in NL is less than here eventhough the exposure (to biking) is much higher and the prevalent use of helmets is much lower.

Biking infrastructure is safer, and allows one to go helmetless and still stay pretty safe if we accept the data from NL.

I'm not advocating helmetless biking.

I've crashed and hit my helmeted head was glad I had the helmet on. But this issue about hair and women biking is important to women and the helmet wearing is a crux in that discussion.

All this to say that better infrastructure is what will break down the barriers to biking for a lot of people.

by Tina on Mar 22, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

It seems like the biggest divide is between bike commuters and people who bike for other reasons (competition, exercise, messengers). The male/female divide seems largely artificial although female commuters arguably have more obstacles.

That said, my short commute on a bikeshare bike is fine in heels and wearing a skirt. I'm generally less sweaty than if I walked the same distance. My hair may suffer, but I'm willing to make the sacrifice for my fast easy commute.

by SE on Mar 22, 2012 1:44 pm • linkreport

--and those pics Jasper just posted show what I'm talking about - no helmets among the very nicely dressed professionals pedalling to their destinations. (although I don't think those "hair-free" riders would be much affected by a helmet)

by Tina on Mar 22, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

@Tina and @SE Sorry I didn't say this straight out - I am an avid helmet wearer no matter what. I brought those items up as barriers but cute hair is never worth not wearing a helmet - if only you could see my hair today you would know I am being honest!

by bikinginheels on Mar 22, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

Nobody in the Netherlands wears a helmet. Proposals to even 'advise' a helmet are more politically suicidal in the Netherlands than proposing tax increases in a heavy Tea Party district. The Dutch just demand (and got) safe biking infrastructure. Dutch kids bike to school, there are no school buses. People want their kids to be safe on the road. Kids get a "bike exam" in primary school.

The law puts liability on the driver in car-bike(&pedestrian) collisions. Drivers may attempt to prove their innocence, but the burden of proof is on them.
Drivers are supposed to be aware that they are moving in a deadly weapon.

Massively drunk biker gets hit by a sober driver? Too bad, driver should have noticed that the biker was unable to drive straight. Kid runs from an unseen corner and gets hit by a car? Driver should have slowed down near the blind spot, especially if near a playground or school.

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

As a woman who recently bought a bike for my very short commute (1/2 mile), I can say this:
Most bike shops were friendly and willing to help, but just didn't seem to somehow get what I was saying about my needs/wants.
I did research ahead of us on blogs like bikesfortherestofus.com and local and national forums, and picked out several bikes that I thought would meet my needs nicely and had good reviews. I was only able to find 1 in stock that I could test ride and check out in person. I can understand not catering to a small portion of your business, but this seemed to be ignoring completely!

by Lisse on Mar 22, 2012 2:00 pm • linkreport

@David, WRT biking, I don't think racial segmentation is a necessary component in increasing interest in biking. IMO, "white people who cook soul food" is an unnecessary distinction. The fact that black women ride bikes is a nobrainer. I totally get the "women who bike" angle..but the racial one?...nah

What I got from the article is that the organization promoting the forum believed that the industry should stop focusing on men in lycra.

by HogWash on Mar 22, 2012 2:05 pm • linkreport

@Lisse: What were you saying about your needs/wants? Did you experience this in all the bike shops you visited?
In my experience, a lot of bike shops stick with a major manufacturer or two, and a lot of the specialty 'dutch style' bikes on that blog can be harder to come by, or even order without prepayment.

by americancyclo on Mar 22, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

Most bike shops were friendly and willing to help, but just didn't seem to somehow get what I was saying about my needs/wants.

I agree with this one thousand percent. And it's not just about bikes themselves. It's about the accoutrement. Carrying stuff. Trying to explain my needs to the young people selling bikes in DC and getting kind of blank looks back was very frustrating. Carrying groceries, etc...There's just nothing they had to offer. In fact, the whole experience was kind of frustrating. I had a much better experience in the 90s when the so-called "bike infrastructure" was less developed. I got a bike that was very much better, too. Today's new bikes are kind of lame.

Other than the little things, as I have been saying for what? three or four years now, what I would love to see is a sustained public information campaign in the papers and on TV. Spots on the news.

Practical stuff that really is never addressed, sadly.

by Jazzy on Mar 22, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

Nobody in the Netherlands wears a helmet.</>

that explains why I didn't see any! I didn't wear one when I rode in NL either. And I was VERY impressed with the speed at which everyone: in business clothes, high heels, with two kids and groceries/all manner of stuff loaded on were able to ride.

@Jasper-glad to see you commenting again. I missed your perspective.

by Tina on Mar 22, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

thedailyriderdc.com is opening soon? on H Street. They definitely seem to cater to commuters who are interested in style.

by SE on Mar 22, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

The Dutch just demand (and got) safe biking infrastructure. Dutch kids bike to school, there are no school buses. People want their kids to be safe on the road. Kids get a "bike exam" in primary school.

The difference is in priorities and culture. To Americans, the way you get around any time you need to move more than 250 ft. is in a car, pure and simple. Part of this is the built environment and the sheer size of the country, part of it is cheap gas, part of it is laziness, part of it is our workaholic nature and fast-paced lifestyle.

I'd wager 99% of Americans don't care about bike infrastructure. To them, the priority is an efficient road system that has maximum throughput. ("How can we get Bob/Sally Officerworker from their suburban home to their job at the suburban office park in the least amount of time?") You don't get that by road diets, bike lanes, sidewalks, pedestrian priority at intersections, lower speed limits, etc. You get that by doing what we've done, basically, by making our streets into lower-speed versions of highways.

Naturally, the loser here is the pedestrian and cyclist. But as their needs aren't really a concern to most in the U.S., this isn't seen as a negative externality. The American "on-the-go" culture emphasizing efficiency, speed, convenience and comfort has no time for the concerns of the Dutch. A good contrast would be a Dutch politician threatening to kill a cycling improvement project vs. and American one doing the same. That move would probably be political suicide in the Netherlands but may actually get him votes in the U.S., and at any rate probably wouldn't lose him any.

It should also be added the Netherlands has a lower crime rate than the U.S., women probably feel safer alone there than they do here.

by Howard on Mar 22, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

@ Jazzy: It's about the accoutrement. Carrying stuff. Trying to explain my needs to the young people selling bikes in DC and getting kind of blank looks back was very frustrating. Carrying groceries, etc...There's just nothing they had to offer.

Very true. Dutch bikes come standard with a solid frame on the back to put your school pack, groceries or girl-friend on...

Ah, here's a pic of the (former) mayor of Amsterdam on his bike with a passenger (not his girl-friend or wife).

Job met Inge

@ Tina: And I was VERY impressed with the speed at which everyone bikes

Well, I will say that the Dutch climate helps a bit. It does not get as hot and humid in the summer. On the other hand, it does rain a lot more. It's all a matter of culture. Since kids bike to school, biking is not even second nature, but first nature. Also, biking is a first a means of transportation, and second a form of exercise.

I missed your perspective.

Thanks. I self-censured myself since I bumped too often into the comment policy.

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2012 2:37 pm • linkreport

Having ridden bikes in Europe as a child, I tend to second Howard's sentiments, and add that the relative flatness and compactness (neatness too) of the neighborhoods made cycling a no brainer alternative. Their bikes were SOOO much better too.

by Jazzy on Mar 22, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

@ Howard:A good contrast would be a Dutch politician threatening to kill a cycling improvement project vs. and American one doing the same.

Dutch politicians are much less hands on that American ones, I think because elections are proportional and not district-bound. Dutch politics tends to be much more abstract. Politicians set guidelines, civil servants work it out. If something stupid happens, politicians point out the obvious, hide behind the civil servants, and make them fix it. Bike safety is an integral part of traffic safety. Bike infrastructure is an integral part of infrastructure.

But that does not mean there is no struggle. Of course there are car-only right-wing politicians (on the right) that want to blacktop the entire country to keep the economy moving. And there are green left-wing politicians that would love to simply ban car-ownership and replace every road with railroads, bike lanes and fields for cows and sheep to graze in (but never be eaten because the meat industry is animal torture).

It's funny that despite all the socialist name-calling, there are no real socialist politicians in the US. Even Bernie Sanders is very moderate on the European scale. Just compare Obama's tax cuts (for everyone under $250k) and tiny tax increase for the wealthy with the call for a 75% tax rate for millionaires from French presidential candidate François Hollande. And he's just the socialist candidate. There are also candidates from the greens, new anticapitalist party, worker's struggle party and solidarity and progress party. Those are the true loonies.

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

Those are the true loonies.
...and even they deserve to a safe biking environment

by Tina on Mar 22, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

Talking about the Netherlands's bike infrastructure is academic. You will never see anything like it on that scale in the US. As Howard pointed out the desire for it isn't there and with the Tea Party ascendent, spending on new bike lanes/paths is going to be gutted. Instead, let's concentrate on normalizing Vehicular Cycling (VC). VC is a push to reclaim the road from exclusive use by motorized traffic. It's the only way to get motorists to respect us.

by Claire on Mar 22, 2012 3:33 pm • linkreport

Here in Fairfax planning for bike routes, including bike lanes and off street bike paths, continues, regardless of the tea party - and AFAICT thats true of most jurisdictions in the region.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 22, 2012 3:40 pm • linkreport

I have to second the comment by Howard about crime being a factor. One thing I miss from the years abroad that I spent in Switzerland, Italy, and Japan was how I could basically walk from one end of the city to another at any time of day and feel safe. I live in a relatively upscale inner suburb of DC now and don't feel as safe as I did in downtown Kyoto or Bologna. For we women this much more of a concern than men. I've been catcalled and hollered at wearing regular street clothes while riding my bike. Boys will be boys, I guess.

Women are also judged much more on our appearances and typically have to wear less practical clothing. So, I can see that being a factor as well; not wanting to show up at work a mess.

And I've read studies that show women are more sensitive to loud noises and strong odors than men are, which would mean biking on a noisy, exhaust saturated street would be more off-putting to us.

by Sarah B. on Mar 22, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport

+1 @Claire

Cycling is already pretty safe in the US. And whether its the facilities, strict liability, laws, selection of riders, or whatever that creates the differential in hospitalization/mortality rates is difficult to identify. If we care about an efficient use of resources then we'd get over our fears and carefully examine risk in cycling relative to other risks we face.

by Geof Gee on Mar 22, 2012 3:54 pm • linkreport

@Geof Gee

I think a lot of this goes back to Perceived Risk vs. Actual Risk:
http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/11/perceived_risk_2.html

by Dan on Mar 22, 2012 4:03 pm • linkreport

Talking about the Netherlands's bike infrastructure is academic. You will never see anything like it on that scale in the US.

Well certainly not with that attitude. I'm sure people were saying that 20 years ago about cycle tracks in DC.

@Geof -I don't know why you think the risk in cycling is not / has not been carefully examine[d] relative to other risks we face

by Tina on Mar 22, 2012 4:04 pm • linkreport

I honestly think the main reason we don't see more female cyclists is because they consider riding to be too dangerous. That's certainly the reason my other-half won't cycle in DC. The solution is better infrastructure.

by renegade09 on Mar 22, 2012 4:05 pm • linkreport

I'm pretty sure that Lance saw an opening to write a screed that would serve as a combination GGW-button-pushing and self-parody, and he decided to go for it. Not much more needs to be said about his comment beyond that and the fact that the Netherlands is awesome.

by JustMe on Mar 22, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

@ Claire: Howard pointed out the desire for it isn't there

The facts just show that is not true. The bike lanes in DC are heavily used. Capital Bikeshare is a smashing success. With both locals and tourists. It's being copied all over the country. The two new stations on the Mall saw massive use within days of being installed with little to no advertisement.

Local reality is simply that wherever biking options are improved, they are heavily used. Sure, downtown DC is different from rural North Dakota. But that's not what we're talking about.

Having said that, even the North Dakota tourism website touts biking.
http://www.ndtourism.com/whatdo/activities/biking/

"All of the state's major cities have developed systems of paved bike trails. Trail maps are available at local park and recreation department offices. "

"Long Distance Routes
With its low traffic and excellent country roads, North Dakota is great for cross-country bike trips. For particularly scenic treks, check out North Dakota's designated scenic byways and backways (backways are non-paved surfaces and more suitable to off-road bicycles). Before riding, check at area chamber of commerce offices, state and federal parks, state and federal Forest Service offices and local bike shops for their recommendations on the best routes."

So what desire is not there?

by Jasper on Mar 22, 2012 4:28 pm • linkreport

"What will encourage more women to bike?" The same thing that will encourage more men to bike...$200/barrel oil.

by Steve Dalord on Mar 22, 2012 4:28 pm • linkreport

How about some hometown love? Our very own Nelle Pierson of WABA was on the panel and spoke very well!

by Greg on Mar 22, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

Sounds like a good conference.

by H Street Landlord on Mar 22, 2012 4:50 pm • linkreport

I agree that perceived safety is the primary reason women I know don't bike in the city more. I think the professional dress thing is a factor too but only for commuting.

To improve perceived safety, we need more bike infrastructure (where are those long promised L&M cycle tracks?!?!).

It would also help to narrow the gap between perceived and actual safety through better bike education. Vehicular Cycling is acknowledged by many to be the safest way to bike and is without a doubt order of magnitude safer than biking on the sidewalk. If there was a smaller gap between perceived and actual safety (i.e., people were more comfortable with VC) we wouldn't have to rely so much on improving bike infrastructure.

However, we have to assume that there will always be a substantial gap between perceived and actual risk and design around that fact.

As for bike shops, I agree that they are stuck in an outmoded way of thinking where biking is for recreational MAMILS and not for the commuting public. I suspect that Mr. Market will take care of that for us over time but it wouldn't be bad to try and educate bike shop owners about how things are changing.

To Americans, the way you get around any time you need to move more than 250 ft. is in a car, pure and simple.

Even if that's true of Americans at large, that's not true of Americans in the DC area (particularly in the city itself). It's fortunate we live in a country where localities have the freedom to do their things their way.

by Falls Church on Mar 22, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

@Dan ... Yes. Thanks for the link. Schneider is broadly an interesting fellow and is quite good at summarizing complicated ideas.

@Tina ... People have certainly done a lot of research on cycling, transportation, and human component. Moreover, there is a long line of research on queueing theory, human cognitive biases, human perception, and so on that we can draw on. But most of the work on cause and effect with regards to cycling risk and it's value is pretty rough with regards to identifying causal effects and often the general discussion lacks a clear model needed to make sense of the noisy data. Mind you, even with the very rough and noisy data out there, we can still make some generalizations about the relative risk of cycling to other activities. Quite frankly, if you don't freak out driving from point A to B, outside of some extraordinary circumstance or environment, you probably shouldn't freak out about cycling from point A to B.

by Geof Gee on Mar 22, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

Unfortunately, even the most liberal politicians in the US are very backwards. An anecdote:

A friend who was a staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein used to walk to work in sneakers and then change into heels outside of her work. One morning, she gets called into the Senator's office. Thinking this must be something important, she grabs her notebook and pen and gets ready for a serious meeting with the Senator. Instead, she receives a verbal lashing -- (in high pitched voice), "As I was driving in today I saw you changing your shoes in front of the building. That's so unprofessional! It reflects badly on me and badly on my office! How dare you do that!"

Now she changes her shoes discreetly a block away and around the corner.

by Falls Church on Mar 22, 2012 5:08 pm • linkreport

I own a bike shop which doesn't carry spandex, nor market to that crowd. So far we've been well-received. Our typical customer uses her bike as a means to transport herself and her personal items around the city. Some wear helmets, some don't. An uptight person passing through our doors is notable, because he's a rare sight. Oddly enough though, we get a steady stream of women racers on our leisurely-paced group rides.

by Erik on Mar 22, 2012 7:32 pm • linkreport

Erik sort of beat me to it but I was about to ask the ladies that had bikeshop trouble if they had tried BicycleSPACE (previously at 5th and I NW, now at 7th and New York NW).

by Froggie on Mar 22, 2012 8:08 pm • linkreport

What will encourage more women to bike is infrastructure that makes cycling the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of getting from A to B.

We also save billions of dollars by simply not providing car infrastructure, making cars the slowest way of getting around.

Here's a video from Japan of Japanese mothers picking up their children. The space is shared with cars, but trust me, cyclists are getting where they are going much faster. See:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iaz_T89wJ2o

by Kevin Love on Mar 22, 2012 8:53 pm • linkreport

The article starts right out with a false implication: that ordinary bicycling is _not_ currently safe. "Renegade09" agrees that women consider biking to be dangerous. At least "Falls Church" framed it as "_perceived_ safety."

For decades - ever since there were styrofoam helmet to sell - tremendous effort has been expended to portray bicycling as dangerous. Yet routinely, studies using national data find that riding a bike for a mile is, on average, safer than walking a mile. And cycling has never been responsible for even 3% of America's head injury fatalities or serious injuries. (Currently, about 0.6% of HI fatalities are due to biking. Pedestrians suffer far more, including more per mile, and motorists suffer roughly half the HI fatalities in America despite seat belts and air bags. Who should wear helmets?)

Furthermore, the implication that facilities make cycling measurably safer is questionable. Bike lanes, plus "innovative" weirdness like bike tracks and bike boxes, have at best a very mixed record of results, with the best before-after studies finding increased danger, even though riders mistakenly perceive them to be safer.

The selling of special facilities and special hats are both scams, completely unsupported by data. Yes, providing a stripe of paint (or worse) will convince many that _now_ they can ride; but a very little education should teach them that they can ride, with excellent safety, on any ordinary road. Google "I am no road warrior" to see how one woman learned this.

Education is the key to freedom, and to the benefits of cycling. Start with the free online pamphlet "Street Smarts" by John Allen. For a more thorough treatment, continue with _Cyclecraft_ by John Franklin. Or consider a Cycling Savvy course. By learning and practicing the techniques therein, anyone (male or female) can ride right now - not wait for some fantasy conversion of America to Amsterdam.

by FK on Mar 22, 2012 9:45 pm • linkreport

I think both sides are right on this, in a way. Cycling is safe, but it's also scary at times. It's like riding a roller coaster in a sense (also safe but scary). It's not quite as scary as riding a roller coaster, but not quite as safe either. Yes, there is a disconnect between these two items. So what we really need to get more women to bike is a way to make cycling less scary. Which is why cycletracks are so good.

by David C on Mar 22, 2012 10:20 pm • linkreport

A note about the Netherlands and why people can bike in "regular" clothes: it's as flat as a pancake and has a very temperate, largely cool climate. The vast majority of buildings there do not have air conditioning because it isn't needed and they rarely experience humidity. Lastly, their cities are more densely populated so you don't usually have to ride as far to get from A to B as you do in the DC region. These differences add up to lots of very short, easy trips allowing cyclists to travel without getting very sweaty. The popularity of upright bikes helps too.

I do agree that bike shops could better cater to women cyclists. I really want to upgrade from my hybrid to a road bike but keep putting off the shopping trip because I find the shop workers to be somewhat condescending to middle aged women looking to get into road bikes and can't think beyond the racing component of it all. They also tend not to carry too many WSD bikes in stock. I wish they had knowledgeable women sales people.

by Kathy on Mar 22, 2012 10:59 pm • linkreport

"Recreational MAMILS and not for the commuting public." Wonderful. That's a sound advocacy strategy. Let's take an already-fractuous issue and start denigrating our supporters.

Why would anyone expect a bike shop to stop serving their existing customer base of athletic/recreational riders? What, in the name of the Cycling Cause? If cycling is growing, there's room for new shops like Bicycle Space or for larger stores.

Drawing lines ignores the complexities around why people ride bikes. I can't speak about all racers, but the triathletes I know in this town are 50-60% women. In DC proper, that group includes a hefty number of transportation riders. WABA's membership includes middle-aged recreational cyclists, many from the suburbs.

We do, of course, live in a world filled with gender bias, and we would benefit from a wider range of services for women and for transportation riders. Approaching this as a zero-sum game, though, in which recreational riders have to lose if transportation cycling is to succeed, is tremendously unhelpful.

by David R. on Mar 22, 2012 11:12 pm • linkreport

Hair.
For at least six months out of the year, biking to work in a helmet makes you so hot you must wash your hair afterwards. I did it for two years biking from Bethesda to Capitol Hill.

One more thing - I had a biking buddy - a man. On really hot summer days, riding slowly up the trail back to Bethesda - we'd sometimes take our helmets off as they are very, very hot. I saw others do the same. If I did this while riding without my male friend, male cyclists would yell at me to put my helmet back on. My friend said no one had ever told him to do so in the ten years he'd been biking. So, female cyclists catch more crap than male cyclists.

In Toronto, the weather is cooler and the city is flatter, making for a much easier ride for both sexes.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 23, 2012 6:19 am • linkreport

I wonder where lies the imaginary demarcation line between the parts of the U.S where it's too warm to ride and those where it's too cold to ride. I hear that Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, and Phoenix are too hot for people to embrace biking, and the Chicago, NYC, Cleveland, Boston, and Philadelphia are too cold for people to embrace biking. I imagine this strip of land is a mere 10 miles wide, but you'd figure at least one sizable city would lie within it.

by Philo on Mar 23, 2012 8:12 am • linkreport

I biked nearly every day in Toronto. In the winter there are some days it's too windy, or sloppy. But you can still bike most days. You have to have damned good gloves, obviously.

Biking in colder weather is not as physically debilitating as biking in Washington's summer heat.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 23, 2012 8:24 am • linkreport

@Geof Gee- Quite frankly, if you don't freak out driving from point A to B, outside of some extraordinary circumstance or environment, you probably shouldn't freak out about cycling from point A to B.

Excellent use of lay language!

by Tina on Mar 23, 2012 10:41 am • linkreport

@ Falls Church: Unfortunately, even the most liberal politicians in the US are very backwards.

I am not sure Feinstein's record is all that liberal. She is also very insecure if she thinks a staffer changing shoes affects her office in any way shape or form.

Also funny, in Holland (and Belgium), "liberal" indicates the right-side of the political spectrum.

Finally, in Rosslyn, I see a lot of women on their way to Deloitte change their footwear in the little park next to the McD. I see a lot of high heels in bags in metro. I wonder whether all those women could not simply rise and demand they be allowed to wear comfortable footwear. There must be women high up in the chain in those companies as well. Seems to be a matter of forcing the issue as a group. But what do I know. I can't remember the last time I wore a suit.

@ Kathy: A note about the Netherlands and why people can bike in "regular" clothes: it's as flat as a pancake and has a very temperate, largely cool climate.

True. But DC is not that hilly. And current weather is very nice to bike in. Climate only takes out summer for biking. Oddly, it's winter when CaBi sees a big drop in use.

by Jasper on Mar 23, 2012 11:36 am • linkreport

Falls Church: what's with the reference to the "in high pitched voice" here:

"Instead, she receives a verbal lashing -- (in high pitched voice),..."

Why is this significant? Would it be better to do so in a lower - more masculine, voice?

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 23, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

Perception of risk is as important as risk itself, but I think anyone who has cycled the streets around Washington will recognize that it is a risky activity. Aggression from drivers, badly-designed intersections and non-enforcement of traffic laws make cycling a dangerous experience. I don't believe that urban cycling is safer than urban driving or urban walking. Not per mile, no way. You can mitigate against those risks by cycling style but the risk is still there. Women are in general more responsive to those risks, hence fewer female cyclists.

@Geoff Gee
if you don't freak out driving from point A to B, outside of some extraordinary circumstance or environment, you probably shouldn't freak out about cycling from point A to B,

This doesn't make sense to me...if I get clipped by a car while I myself am driving, I get some scratched-up paintwork. If a car collides with me when I'm cycling, I'm probably going to the ER...or worse.

by renegade09 on Mar 23, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

Something surprisingly not mentioned here is that women are more often than men responsible for shuttling around children, adding another complication to cycling. I ride and shuttle my kids home from school every day on my bike - so it is possible. But it takes commitment. And it takes having a good route - I get to ride the MBT from kids school to home - which makes the whole prospect that much more palatable.

by elizqueenmama on Mar 23, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

@Capt. Hilts re: "High-Pitched", "Shrill", etc.:

http://www.thenewagenda.net/2009/06/16/sexist-blogger-margaret-carlson/

The term “high-pitched” is referring to a woman’s naturally occurring vocal range, which is higher than a man’s. The use of the description of a woman’s natural vocal range as a disparaging adjective is a textbook example of gender-coded language that has been around for a long time. Another common, derogatory term used is “shrill.” This type of language is demeaning, misogynistic, and reminiscent of the Victorian era.

by Jane on Mar 23, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

Way to complete miss the point of Falls Church's comment, Jane.

by Wally on Mar 23, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

No, Wally, Falls Church's denigration of Feinstein's voice denigrates us all. Women, that is.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 23, 2012 3:00 pm • linkreport

@ renegade09:Aggression from drivers, badly-designed intersections and non-enforcement of traffic laws make cycling a dangerous experience. I don't believe that urban cycling is safer than urban driving or urban walking.

I am not sure about the latter, but completely agree with the former. All traffic in DC is hellish. Not only bike lanes are poorly designed, many intersections are so poorly built I wonder if there was any design ever. Pavement is terrible everywhere, from the interstates to the Mall itself. Not in the least due to the enormous amount of pot holes and absent maintenance. The lack of proper indications leads to a lot of confusion on the road, and combined with the sheer volume of traffic, to aggression.

by Jasper on Mar 23, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

Perception of risk is as important as risk itself, but I think anyone who has cycled the streets around Washington will recognize that it is a risky activity. Aggression from drivers, badly-designed intersections and non-enforcement of traffic laws make cycling a dangerous experience.

Sorry, look at the statistics. Cycling in DC is just not particularly dangerous.

I think a lot of this comes from the same place as Capt Hilts' "helmet enforcers": people who ride often like to exaggerate the risks because it makes their lives more exciting. Those who don't ride do the same because it's a good excuse to not get on a bike.

by oboe on Mar 26, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

@hogwash:

If I, as a biracial female bicyclist in a mostly white Midwestern city, wanted to find others like me a name like the Black Women Ride bike group would be the most obvious way to find such a group.

Minorities bike riders are rare. I personally feel slightly uncomfortable being the token ethnic at every bike group I met up with. At a bike group with other black women its enormously encouraging to know I'm "not the only one alone" out there biking. Besides only a black woman could commiserate or have tips on how to perserve our unique hair when its crushed or sweats out. :)

I'd wager you're not a minority or likely not female. There are many groups that use race or nationality or religious-affiliation to bring together like-minded people or people from a similar culture with unique concerns that are not part the dominate group.

by Pilar Abril on Apr 4, 2012 11:19 pm • linkreport

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