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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Women’s Bicycling Forum Confronts Obstacles to Getting More Women Riding | streetsblog.org

NOW President Terry O'Neill told the Women's Forum that they need to put women -- not bicycles -- at the center of their analysis. Photo: Brian Palmer
NOW President Terry O’Neill told the Women’s Forum that they need to put women — not bicycles — at the center of their analysis. Photo: Brian Palmer
This year marks the third time a Women’s Bicycling Forum has preceded the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, and, despite weather emergencies and an epidemic of flight cancellations, this is by far the best-attended one yet.
Despite impressive momentum, the movement to get more women on bikes faces many obstacles. Yesterday, National Organization of Women President Terry O’Neill laid out some barriers to women’s cycling that don’t often make it into the conversation. When bike advocates focus on safe infrastructure, group rides, and kitten-heel-friendly bike fashion to lure women, O’Neill says they might be missing some important points.
Overlooked Factors
Commuting to work by bike is all well and good if you live near work, O’Neill said, but low-wage women workers in the service industry — who live on the poor side of town and work on the rich side — might have long commutes on dangerous arterial streets at non-traditional hours. Telling them to bike that route is a losing battle.
But it’s also an opportunity to make important connections with other movements, she said — like the fight for affordable housing in all communities, so that more people can live near their jobs.
Women are also more sensitive than men to the dangers they face, not just from cars but from predators, O’Neill noted. Being exposed and unprotected on a bike might be a deal-breaker for women who have been victims of sexual assault or stalking.
Plus, it’s well-known that women’s days are more complicated than men’s. Grocery shopping, child-care dropoff, and soccer practice all create multi-point trips with different cargo. As Megan Odett of Kidical Mass DC says, a $100 investment will allow you to do about 75 percent of everything you need to do on your bike with your kid. But to make all your trips on a bike requires an investment of thousands: Cargo bikes and electric assists are not cheap.
O’Neill suggests that the women’s bike movement should shift its focus. “What do we do to bring women to bikes?” is the wrong question, she said. “Put women at the center of your analysis and you’ll ask, ‘What do we need to do to make bicycles a smart, natural no-brainer solution for the challenges women face in their everyday lives?’”

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