Why I hate cycling around London as a woman

A female cyclist taking her life in her hands on the streets of London. Image: Getty.

“I said sorry,” the businessman shouted at me as I swore at him. Not because it’s fun to swear at businessmen (it is), but because he had just opened the car door of his Uber onto me as I cycled past, apparently oblivious to my bright red bike in broad daylight.

I have been cycling around London since I was 9, but only recently have I started noticing the behaviour of men on the road. Be it as a cyclist, driver or pedestrian, an underlying entitlement permeates every move.

My daily commute is the only long passage of time where I’m not distracted by something, so in order to pass the dull minutes inside my own head I tend to observe the behaviour around me. The more I cycle around London, the more it becomes clear: men feel entitled to the road, men heckle you as you ride past, and men are almost always the ones knocking you off your bike as they ride through a red light, presumably guided by some super-male power of premonition.

This might seem anecdotal, but it does fit with a statistically observable trend: drivers treat women worse on roads. A 2015 survey noted that, even though women make up a smaller portion of cyclists in London, and cycle slower, they’re still twice as likely to have a “near miss”.

In the same year, women were most likely to be killed by a lorry: a striking statistic, considering the lower number of female cyclists. Women are on average slower and more cautious, yet are constantly penalised for being on the road. No wonder women make up only 27 per cent of London’s cycling community.

If you’re a female cyclist this gender disparity is noticeable, especially in the way you’re treated differently to the lyrca-clad cyclebros. It is almost always men who will walk in front of me as I’m cycling, their glowing shield of virility and manliness forcing me to slow down for their passing, clocking my gaze as if to say “I, man, am walking now.”


I am surrounded by a sea of men weaving past in the mornings, but even the obvious amateurs (Santander bike/ sweaty shirt/ dangerous levels of enthusiasm at 8am) overtake and cut me off, running red lights because who has time to wait when you’ve got important things to do like be a man? Men, in their unchecked arrogance on the road, make my cycling life crap.

The way women are treated on bikes is similar to the way women are treated running – or doing any form of physical activity that isn’t directly related to the pleasure of men. The audacity that we might use our bodies for something other than being passive sexual objects: taking up space, exercising, being strong – all a big no no for women in public. Not only would that discourage women from cycling to work, but it can be a sweaty business, which is not ideal for a gender that is expected to appear perfectly made-up and devoid of bodily function.

Cycling is just another subculture that men dominate, even when it comes to just getting to and from work. The ownership that men feel on road, on bikes, even as helpless pedestrians, is just another opportunity for them to assert power. A cycle home for me is a constant barrage of fragile masculinity manifesting in jeers and near collisions.

I’m grateful that I was bought up feeling confident cycling around London, and for the advice I’ve been given by my other female friends who cycle (“take up space – you’re allowed to be on the road too”). But the condescending and sexist behaviour by men is more than just irritating – it’s potentially dangerous. Sexism isn’t usually fatal – but in this case, it could be.

Ruby Lott-Lavigna tweets as @RubyJLL.

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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.