A New York Times article on the imbalance among women and men in use of New York City’s bike share system drew more than 300 reader comments this week, focusing debate often reserved for the locations of bike lanes or speeding in parks to the topic of gender and bicycling. In case you missed it, it’s worth a read, and so is the summary of comments subsequently posted by the Times on its website.
Emma Fitzsimmons’ article examines the need of Citi Bike, the largest bike share in the U.S., to recruit more women users as the system continues to expand and seeks to build membership. The Citi Bike gender gap is plain: Women make up about a quarter of Citi Bike trips and they account for about one third of members.
“Upgrades to troublesome software and plans for more stations have been welcome steps, but persuading more women to join is seen as vital to the success of Citi Bike,” the Times article notes.
Factors like fear of riding in traffic and practical considerations, such as arriving sweaty to work, are cited as barriers. It has been well-documented that women prioritize safety when they ride Citi Bike. Studies have shown, for example, that they tend to choose docking stations located nearer bike lanes or green ways and on lower-traffic streets, than men.
Many female readers shared their joy in bike share riding, along with practical tips and advice on how they make Citi Bike work for them. Commenters also called for additional bike lanes, which would help make both women and men feel safer riding on New York City streets. Others cited the need for improved enforcement of the rules of the road, an end to harassment of women cyclists in the streets, attention to the cost of bike share and improvements to design of the bikes, such as larger front racks to carry purses and bags.
The gender gap, and associated hurdles are seen in other U.S. bike share systems, as well. The barriers also transcend bike sharing and are key focuses of advocacy for women’s cycling in general – along with improving the bike shopping experience, encouraging the industry to produce products that enhance cycling comfort and elevating more women to leadership positions in the world of cycling.
The Times article cites a new report on Citi Bike’s first two years by the Rudin Center for Transportation and Policy at New York University, which examines challenges faced by the system, as well as strategies for the future, led by expanding and achieving greater diversity in Citi Bike’s membership base.
Among the Rudin Center report’s recommendations: increasing availability of bike lanes and placing additional bike share stations near them; expanding the system into residential areas in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queen; making it easier for women to use bikes to fulfill household responsibilities, such as transporting children to school; and partnering with workplaces near Citi Bike stations on initiatives to encourage women’s participation.
Response to the Times article is an encouraging sign of engagement and highlights the need to find and pursue creative strategies to bring more women around to the advantages of cycling for transportation. In the mean time, I second @amykbauer, who tweeted in response to the article: C’mon girls. It’s fun!