Friday, October 2, 2009
 

How to get more bicyclists on the road

One way is to find out why more women don't ride bikes in the U.S., according to a recent article in Scientific American entitled "How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road: To boost urban bicycling, figure out what women want" By Linda Baker.
"If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed 'bikeability indexes'—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female," says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.

Women are considered an "indicator species" for bike-friendly cities for several reasons. First, studies across disciplines as disparate as criminology and child ­rearing have shown that women are more averse to risk than men. In the cycling arena, that risk aversion translates into increased demand for safe bike infrastructure as a prerequisite for riding. Women also do most of the child care and household shopping, which means these bike routes need to be organized around practical urban destinations to make a difference.
According to the research, dedicated, separated facilities may be the key to attracting more women to cycling. However, many experienced cyclists point out that riding in the road with traffic is usually safer than riding in a separated facility. An integrated network of dedicated, separated facilities is critical; having piecemeal trails or isolated, poorly implemented bike lanes is often worse than no facility.

Where dedicated facilities are the most successful and safe are in places like Portland and Copenhagen where the government has made a strong commitment to providing properly engineered, complete networks of bike routes.

It is interesting that those experienced cyclists who argue most strongly in favor of having few or no dedicated bike facilities, who say that cyclists should be treated as equal road users and should be an integral part of traffic, are almost always men (including myself). Among bicycle advocates, the topic of dedicated bike facilities is volatile and I've only briefly touched upon some of the issues. For a full discussion of the topic, see the Wikipedia article Segregated cycle facilities.

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