By Julie Deardorff
July 26, 2011
If you want to get more people on their bikes, find a way to appeal to women, one expert says.
Chicago’s first protected bike lane on Kinzie Ave., which uses soft plastic posts and a parking lane to buffer cyclists from car traffic, could make city riding safer. And if these separated lanes appeal to women, they could dramatically boost the number of urban cyclists, says an expert on biking and gender differences.
Though men take twice as many cycling trips as women in the U.S., females are the key to getting more people out of cars and on to bikes, argues Jan Garrard, an Australian researcher.
Women have been called the “the indicator species” in bike-friendly cities because when they pedal, there’s a trickledown effect, said Garrard, a senior lecturer in public health at Deakin University in Melbourne.
“In countries that meet women’s cycling needs, more children, older adults and other more ‘risk-concerned’ groups also cycle,” said Garrard. “If we make it safe, fun and easy for women, we make it safe, fun and easy for everyone.”
Women tend to be more risk averse and less reckless than men, studies show, and more concerned about bike safety. Garrard’s research has found women are more likely to use off-road paths rather than roads with or without bike lanes. “The real and perceived risks of cycling are enhanced among women, and this ranges from concerns about serious injuries to the everyday hassles often associated with cycling,” she said.