From the data, it looks like Citi Bike, New York City’s one-year-old bike share system, like most of the cycling world, is a boys’ club. Of subscriber rides, more than 76 percent were taken by men, according to recently reported bike share gender data.

Editor’s note: Today’s guest post is by Sarah Kaufman, digital manager, NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. It is based on her presentation at a recent showcase of Citi Bike data.

However, women are still using Citi Bike in large numbers – 1,133,135 trips were logged by women from July 2013 to February 2014. What’s more, with the on-demand convenience that appeals to busy women, bike share may just prove to be the kind of liberating force that helped attract women during the first golden age of cycling in the late 1890s – think of bike share as the bloomer of the 21st century.

How Women’s Preferences Differ From Men’s

Still, for now, gender gaps are reflected not only in numbers of trips, but also in different preferences.  Women are choosing to start their trips at stations very different from their male counterparts, as you can see in this map (designed by Jeff Ferzoco of linepointpath), showing the top stations for percentage of trip starts by gender. However, women’s stations top out at 41 percent female trip starts – they do not constitute the majority at any station.

Citi Bike Use by Gender

In general, men are in midtown Manhattan and women are in Brooklyn – or easily accessing Brooklyn. But it’s not just about the geographic layout of the stations. Looking more closely at the station characteristics, women are gravitating toward safer locations: 40 percent of their top stations have a bike lane or protected greenway (30 percent for male-preferred stations). Women also choose stations on lower-traffic streets, with an average of 2 lanes of traffic, and highly restricted truck access; men’s top station streets average 2.6 lanes of traffic and mostly unrestricted truck access. Finally, these stations vary in their recent safety records: between March 2013 and February of 2014, the stations preferred by women have a lower average number of cyclist injuries in recent memory: 0.8 for female-preferred locations versus 1.3 for male-preferred locations. The memory of safety conditions likely affects station and route choices.

Promoting Freedom of Mobility

It’s clear that Citi Bike has a gender divide, both in number and preferences. But it’s important to work toward equalizing those factors, because women are early indicators of safety. When women bike, it means the biking is safe, convenient and comfortable.

When American women started biking in the late 19th century, they found freedom and self-reliance by being able to choose their transportation options. They traded in their twenty-pound skirts for bloomers. Once women were free of heavy, constraining attire, they experienced freedom of mobility for the first time in their lives. They were comfortable and free, and biking took off among American women.

Now, getting women on bikes is the next level in mobility choice. As the chart below (also designed by Jeff Ferzoco) shows Citi Bike is becoming an important complement to transit in New York City. When subways are down, people are beginning to choose bikes: getting more women on bikes means equalizing access to a new, important mode of transportation.

The bloomers of 2014 are Citi Bikes: Women tend to make more multi-stop trips, so they can better use the pickup and drop-off features of Citi Bike. Bike Share is also a great way to work out efficiently, rather than commuting to a gym. And most importantly, the more bikers there are out there, the safer all cyclists are. So with the new freedom of mobility afforded by Citi Bike, women may just connect with the same spirit of liberty that their 19th-century foremothers experienced in their revolutionary new garb.

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