Will Bike Share Attract More NYC Women to Cycling?

Women Riding NYC Bike Share

As of Wednesday, just three days after launch, Citi Bike share had attracted 21,300 annual members. So far, the percentage of women tracks with general bike commuting statistics here. However, if other U.S. cities with bike share systems provide any indication, the numbers could approach something closer to gender parity.

Of the newly minted Citi Bike annual members, 30 percent are women, says New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

“That’s a good start, but we’ve got to do better,” the commissioner told local cycling advocates, business people and members of the women’s racing community who packed Bicycle Habitat in Soho yesterday for a women’s reception and downtown ride to celebrate the arrival of bike share.

Early Adopters

Currently women account for 25 percent of commuters who bike to work in New York City, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited in the Alliance for Biking & Walking 2012 Benchmarking Report. Thus Citi Bike membership is already consistent with, indeed slightly ahead of, overall commuter statistics.

“This is what you would expect to see,” says Caroline Samponaro, senior director of campaigns and organizing of Transportation Alternatives. “The fact that 30 percent of the first round of members are women mirrors the existing 1:3 breakdown between women and men riding on the street.

“These are the early adopters, and so it makes sense that more men would be in the pool,” she says. But Samponaro predicts that bike share membership numbers approaching gender parity could be a distinct future possibility.

In other U.S. cities where bike share has been introduced, women have embraced the benefits – among them, fitness, convenience, flexibility and environmental friendliness — with gusto, suggesting that more than the curbside cityscape may change with bike share’s debut.

Woman Riding Citi Bike NYC

Bike Share’s Track Record

Consider these examples: In Minneapolis in 2011, 44 percent of annual members in the Nice Ride bike share were women. In the same year, 49 percent of Capital Bikeshare members in Washington D.C. were female. Likewise, 47 percent of current or past Boston Hubway members were women. What’s interesting to note is that, in each case membership exceeds the percentage of women in the general population who are commuting by bike. According to the Alliance report, the overall percentage of bicycle commuters in those cities stood at 37 percent for Minneapolis, 33 percent for Washington and 33 percent for Boston.

Among the reasons commonly cited for bike share’s relative appeal to women are ease, flexibility and convenience. Not coincidentally, lack of these advantages surface as barriers to attracting more women to the bike lanes. Thus it does not strain the imagination to envision the appeal to busy women of running a quick errand across town over the lunch hour or cutting morning wait time for public transit by using bike share.

Citi Bike is the largest bike share system in the nation, with 6,000 bicycles available for short-term rental from more than 300 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Convenience for Busy Women

Dani Simons, director of marketing and external affairs for NYC Bike Share, recently touched upon the no-fuss aspects of this transportation mode: “Bike share is an on-demand transportation system. It’s transportation where you need it, when you need it, on your terms, and someone else is taking care of the details.”

Some of those in attendance at yesterday’s event at Bicycle Habitat echoed the appeal.

“In New York, you’re always feeling like you’re running a few minutes behind,” said women’s pro cycling star and Olympian Evelyn Stevens, who led the women’s bike share social ride on the Lower East Side along with members of Team Specialized lulu lemon. “This is a great way to get places faster.”

The fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff, who also attended the celebration, said: “I’ve been riding a city bicycle, but I’m going to switch to Citi Bike, because I don’t have to lock it up.”

While it’s far too early to predict the potential of bike share to attract New York City women to cycling for transportation, the early numbers, combined with the experience of other cities, signal promise.

Photos: velojoy

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  • Membership in the system doesn’t necessarily equal ridership. In Minnesota, women annual members rode fewer actual trips than men, bringing ridership roughly in line with the general gender split. In DC, women bikeshare members stated via survey that they rode less trips on the system than men.

    • Darren, that’s a good point. Fortunately, it looks like NYC Bike Share will be able to produce a rich data set, so time will reveal habits and trends here. I think most would agree that more needs to be done to engage women with all the personal and civic advantages of cycling. Bike share may prove one positive step in that direction. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Just leave it alone. This innovative program(for NYC) is just days old and everyone expects it to blossom to absolute fruition according to fantasized expectations and not actual experience elsewhere. Participation will be what it will be. Don’t insist that behavior modification must happen. Let word of mouth do its job.
    Sometimes, transport by bike is just transport by bike.

    • Tom, thanks for your comment. The beauty of bike share is that no behavior modification is needed. You just get on a bike and ride. That come-as-you-are convenience may just attract more women — who, as you know, are under-represented in bicycling across the board. That would be a win-win-win for the participants, for the city and for safer streets.

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