Info-Graphic Shows Bicycling Ratios

Take a look at this interesting info-graphic that shows, among other things, the differences between the numbers of  bicycle commuters by gender. The idea is that one measure of bicycle friendliness is the low ratio of male to female bicyclists.

Why do women commute by bicycle in smaller numbers than men? Is the lower ratio an indication of safety issues that women have with bicycling in traffic? Do we have any proof that a lower ratio is a function of safety? Could cultural or economic issues also play a role? The article in Scientific American (linked above) raises all these questions. I don’t think the answer is as simple as women need bicycling infrastructure to feel safe. I suspect they primarily need a culture that privileges bicycling and/or a culture than treats road users as people rather than objects.

An anecdote and observation: My wife works at home, so she has no commute (unless you count the walk from the kitchen to her desk). But she does ride a bicycle for many trips away from home — when the weather is nice. She navigates the entire Springfield urban core, but is usually not keen on traveling outside that area except to go to church or to the farmer’s market at the mall. (Geez…can we please get that thing moved downtown? A mall parking lot is just soooo not an appropriate venue). So how do you count her in the ratio for Missouri? Well, she doesn’t count. Neither does my daughter who rides to school. Neither do female college students who ride to various destinations other than jobs.

What about utility bicycling? Why is it always about commuting? What would the female-to-male ration look like from a utility perspective? Are we hurting our cause by ignoring (what I think is) a sizable number of participants?

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Comments 8

  1. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Don’t take this as sexist (it’s just true), but women are more likely to be traveling with children. In the suburbs they often put on more travel miles than their husbands due to shuttling kids around and such. There are many more single-parent women than men. Then there’s the personal safety (crime) angle. All these factors contribute to reduced bicycle commute rates for women. Facilities won’t change that.

    Posted 30 Mar 2011 at 9:13 am
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Mighk… The SA article makes the same points. And I agree. These are not purely safety issues, IMO, but at least partly cultural and economic issues.

    Posted 30 Mar 2011 at 9:26 am
  3. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I suspect they counted commuters because that’s a question asked on some national polling efforts so data are there. I wondered aloud on the LAB blog if commuter numbers were a valid proxy for total cycling exposure.

    I’m sure adding a lot of bike infrastructure will increase bicycling somewhat because most non-cyclists don’t think it is safe to ride in traffic. But the facilities-safety argument is taken as religion by the public rather than a hypothesis, much to the chagrin of those who would like to see more, better, peer reviewed studies. According to Gallup, a third of all Americans also think the Bible is literally true. Does that make them right?

    But to get to European level mode splits by building bikeways? I’d like some of whatever it is these people are smoking. Europe does backflips to make urban driving a motor vehicle very expensive and inconvenient (eight to nine buck a gallon gas, limited inner city parking, etc.) and they spend a lot of money on mass transit and cycletrack infrastructure (dedicated bicycle traffic lights and right of way cycles, etc.). Plus, distances are small. I spent a week in Germany staying at the Bremen city center and took a tram to the airport every day to work in a mass spec factory. Three kilometers each way. Of course you can bike it! Europe never bought into suburban sprawl and Wal-martization of shopping.

    By contrast, when you look at the blowback happening in New York when the Mayor puts in a trivial amount of separated bikeways, you know what planners would be up against if they tried a Euro model in much of the US. Socialism! Communism! A United Nations Plot! Worse!

    I think eventually, oil shortages will force people out of their cars. Until then, we have engineered ourselves into a largely auto-dependent culture. Its going to be a bitch to back out of that.

    Posted 30 Mar 2011 at 9:45 am
  4. A.J. wrote:

    The Federal Gasoline Tax was last increased in 1993 and not indexed for inflation at around 17 cents per gallon. I’d like to be a fly on the wall of Congress for the poor Rep who proposes an indexed increase because the National Highway and Interstate fund is grossly underfunded.

    Although it does give Missouri an accurate new slogan: “Welcome To Missouri: Expect Construction Delays”

    Posted 30 Mar 2011 at 11:36 am
  5. Keri wrote:

    The most common reason I hear from women for not commuting is lack of a shower at work. I know lots of male bike commuters who don’t have a shower, but they are OK with cleaning up with wet wipes and such. The women want to wash and blow dry their hair.

    Between now and mid-October, it’s not possible to go any distance at any pace without sweating. Even when it’s cool, it’s humid.

    Posted 30 Mar 2011 at 1:32 pm
  6. Khal Spencer wrote:

    In Honolulu, I would arrive at work after an 11 mile commute drenched like I had just gotten out of the ocean (but not smelling nice like the ocean). A shower was a MUST.

    I can sympathize with Floridians.

    Posted 30 Mar 2011 at 2:11 pm
  7. MamaVee wrote:

    I’d weigh in the family miles plays a role.

    I have a bike that accommodates both kids, however it is far from perfect and not the best option for me if I need to make tracks fast between pick up and drop off time ( a 3 hour window). I *should* be able to do everything by bike b/c I travel a small radius, however with hills and time factor I can’t get everything done in that time frame by bike. :-(

    A friend of sorts who is older with older kids was talking about the fact that she requires her car for all the things she does. Grocery store, errand here, shlep teen non driver there, blah blah blah. Again I would bet she’s moving in a 5 mile circle- yet in order to do stuff fast- and easy- the bike would not be it.

    I think having more cargo options is key as well as more role models for using cargo option ( chicken and egg on that one) and infrastructure as many of my friends don’t feel all that safe traveling with the kids by bike and our streets are fairly kind yet still it gets tricky.

    Finally as someone who really really wanted and still wants an Electric Cargo option – having a variety of these options avail would also be key. More are becoming avail- but not in Electric models AND it’s impossible to test ride as there are a few satelite places that sell them. I bought the one option that happened to be sold near me and it’s great- but not perfect. So many friends appreciate my bike- but not at its price point and perhaps if it had a great gentle motor- they could be swayed.

    and finally a huge cultural shift needs to happen. For those suburban moms who are just trying to get shit done as effiencent as possible- along with carpooling etc etc- you aren’t going to make the case for bike for things other than a nice trip to the park. ( Not all- just the majority I believe) So that’s my thought on that.

    Posted 30 Mar 2011 at 4:12 pm
  8. Andy Cline wrote:

    The electric option could also be good re: sweating in humid climates. While 9 months of the year one can bicycle largely sweat-free in MO (if one doesn’t ride like one is in a race), those other three months are tough.

    Posted 30 Mar 2011 at 5:41 pm