Women, Cycling and Edmonton

I just read this Globe and Mail column, Where are all the female cyclists? Since I am one, I thought to myself, perhaps they’re also sitting on their couch avoiding the 32 degree weather, eating chips and watching Gilmore Girls thinking about whether this counts as “wasting summer.”

Anyway.

The basic fact seems to be that in major North American cities, only about a quarter of commuting cyclists and bike share program users are women. (Your instincts would be correct if you, like me, have pedaled around Amsterdam or Copenhagen and think this must be different in Europe: about half of cyclists in European cities are female.)

Margaret Wente thinks women are riding in buses, trains or cars for their commutes to work instead of biking, mainly because of concerns around general sweatiness, grooming, helmet hair, skirts, and the like.

The research, as far as it’s been done out there in the world–and as far as it’s been done by me in five minutes–suggests otherwise.

Social science tells us that the biggest concern female cyclists have seems to be the biggest concern cyclists in general have: distracted drivers. From my current stance on the couch, but with an eye to my impending morning bike commute to work, I fully concur with this. I get a little sweaty biking around the city, sure, but doing it in a skirt is no problem and helmet hair doesn’t seem to be a real issue for me. At least, those things are no more or less an issue for me than they are for, say, my male colleagues. But distracted drivers? Absolutely. Of course. I’ve pulled up on my bike next to countless people on their phones, doing their make up, and even cutting their nails. (Ok fine, that last one wasn’t me, but it’s from a good source.) This is scary for cyclists.

So why the unbalanced numbers still? Well, let’s think about what else women only represent a quarter of. Like our Canadian House of Commons. In fact, on average, women represent about a quarter of elected representatives in Canada across all levels of government. And what are the reasons for that? Numerous. Complex. Problematic.

One thing that stood out for me during my five minutes of research on this topic was that some women cite lack of ability to carry a passenger on their bikes as a reason they don’t use them to commute. For example, bucket seats for kids.

We know women are still making less money than men. Still making up a smaller percentage of the senior level, higher paying jobs in many industries, including politics and corporate boardrooms. We know that women are still doing more of the household work and more of the childcare work than men.

I find it fascinating that this plays out on the streets in cycling statistics. How did urban cycling in North American cities come to mimic the unequal numbers we see in other parts of our society? As of yet–and we’re verging on a solid 10 minutes of research here–I haven’t found a satisfactory answer.

All I know is that I love riding my bike around Edmonton, to get anywhere and everywhere I need to go. Mostly I’m afraid of cars and their drivers. I am far less concerned about my own sweat. I have eased into relying on my bicycle to get around and transitioning away from depending on my car. So has this cool person with this cool blog, it seems.

What’s different about North America and Europe? Infrastructure? Socialism? Cultural attitudes? I am dying to know.

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