Nearly three quarters of British women never ride a bike. So how can we get women cycling?

A woman on a bike: a rarity, except in Cambridge. Image: Getty.

Women in UK cities have a positive perception of cycling – yet almost three quarters (73 per cent) never ride a bike. This is the finding from Sustrans’ new publication ‘Women: reducing the gender gap’ which surveyed 7,700 people across seven major cities on their travel habits and attitudes to cycling.

Will Norman, the mayor of London’s walking & cycling Commissioner, has recently vowed to tackle the cycling diversity problem in the capital, stating that London cyclists were too “white, male and middle class”. The fact there are more men cycling than women in the UK is well-documented.

But this is concerning, and highlights wider gender inequality: fewer women than men meet the recommended physical activity levels of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week in the UK, making them more vulnerable to poor health and premature death.

 

The good news is that there is so much untapped potential here. It’s not that women don’t want to cycle. Our new report, ‘Women: reducing the gender gap’, shows that 30 per cent of women living in major UK cities that don’t currently ride a bike would like to, and many that already do would like to cycle more. The majority of women also view cycling positively, with 74 per cent stating they would like to see greater investment in cycling generally.

By enabling more women to cycle we could unlock this untapped potential. We could make sustainable mobility a real choice for women. We could make our towns and cities more liveable places, with cleaner air, quieter streets and safer roads – all the while increasing cycling trips from the 2 per cent of journeys it is today.

So how do we get more women cycling? Although there are commonalities between groups less likely to cycle, one thing is consistently over-looked by transport planners: the different needs and experiences of women, which are poorly reflected in infrastructure planning and design.


Plan for “tripchaining”

First, time constraints and complex schedules can prevent many women from cycling today. A handful of routes built to get people into the centre of cities is less likely to cater for the women who need cycling infrastructure elsewhere; routes in place that allows for “tripchaining” – for example, from a school, to the shops, to recreation and back to the school.

Most of these journeys will take place in the inner city neighbourhoods or around suburban town centres. So whilst it’s crucial to have infrastructure in place that gets people safely to and from their places of work, women are still over represented in roles that require other journeys in other parts of our towns and cities. And these journeys need to be reflected in planning.

Spend money wisely to make streets safer

Secondly, women report heightened fears of traffic and for their personal safety. This translates into our finding that women have a stronger preference for physical separation from motor traffic than men: 76 per cent of women surveyed who cycle or would like to cycle said they would find cycle routes along the road but physically separated from traffic very useful to begin cycling or to cycle more. Four in five women (79 per cent) said they supported building protected cycle lanes even if it meant less space for other road traffic.

However, in the cities featured in the report, there are only 19 miles of protected bike lanes in total, where data is available. Building more direct protected cycle lanes – safe, quick and convenient – benefits everyone, not just women. Overcoming safety concerns while being useful for every day needs, infrastructure that is inclusive, safe and welcoming is a must to increase cycling across all minority groups.

Gender representation in transport

Thirdly, more needs to be done to support and encourage women into transport planning and infrastructure design roles. If they are better represented in these industries, more of the decisions made should reflect women.

It is a maxim in management that diversity makes for better decisions. Perhaps most importantly, women and other under-represented groups should be better represented from the beginning of proposals for new infrastructure so that their needs are better integrated into stages of consultation, design, delivery and monitoring of all new schemes.

Engagement programmes as part of the planning package

Lastly, we need greater levels of training and outreach to enable more women to travel by bike. Peer to peer influence is said to have the greatest impact on changing behaviour. If we want to increase access to cycling and the numbers of people cycling, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background, we cannot continue with the mentality of “build it and they will come” when it comes to cycling infrastructure.

We need to make cycling infrastructure more inclusive from the start by bringing in local communities from inception to completion of projects – and we need to better understand the needs of everyone.

Rachel White is senior policy & political advisor at Sustrans.

 
 
 
 

Why aren’t working class people living in cities also “left behind”?

The metropolitan elite. Image: Getty.

If you have hammer, everything’s a nail. The hammer for much of Britain’s political class and commentators is Brexit, which is meant to explain everything from social mobility to the north-south divide to attitudes to immigration to public transport investment.

However, a huge amount is lost in this sort of analysis. One particular casualty is our understanding of working-class communities. This is particularly striking in the presentation of London as being a Remain stronghold inhabited by metropolitan elites.

In fact, the reality is that working class communities, especially in cities, have been just as “left behind” as those elsewhere in the UK. Even 72 people dying in the Grenfell Tower tragedy, a preventable fire which happened within sight of Parliament, hasn’t dislodged the dominant narrative of London as a leafy cosmopolitan elite bubble.

The lazy and reductive “London is cosmopolitan elite” narrative extends well beyond the far right. This shorthand gathers into one category people who have a second home in Provence, and outsourced gig economy workers who live in Hackney. By flattening such diversity into catch-all terms, we erase the existence of working class Londoners, ethnic minorities and migrants.

The facts are stark – London has some of the highest poverty, highest pollution, and largest working class community in all of the UK. Seven of the top 11 local authorities in terms of child poverty are in London, while the capital records the highest level of air pollution in the country.

Yet the statistics are airily dismissed because a majority London residents voted Remain in the EU referendum – and remainers, of course, are all elite, especially if they live in London. By such magic thinking, three in four black people in Britain become elite because they voted to remain in the EU, a point that should perhaps give pause to even the doughtiest proponent of the everything-is-Brexit theory.

Despite our national obsession about class, Britain already had an impoverished understanding and narrative on the topic even before Brexit. Why aren’t the ethnic minority and migrant people who live in tower blocks and experience disproportionate levels of child poverty (rising to 59 per cent for Bangladeshi children) viewed as working class? Why aren’t those living in cities, or who die in preventable fires also “left behind”?

One answer is it doesn’t suit a narrative that wants to make everything about Brexit, and that only addresses class when the context is Brexit. Another is that recognising that many ethnic minorities are also working-class is not helpful when your aim is to prosecute a different argument: that Britain needs “tougher” immigration policies.

At its most extreme, this argument ties into the longstanding narrative that only white people can be British or live in Britain. Of course, this is a narrative that divides working class communities and blames ethnic minorities and migrants for all of society’s ills.

It also has a direct policy effect. It is easier to justify cuts to public services if expenditure on those services is associated with “undeserving scroungers” who don’t really count as fellow citizens.

Recent research published by the Runnymede Trust and the Centre for Labour and Social Studies shows the wider effects of this narrative. The report’s title “We Are Ghosts” are the words of Henry, a working-class Londoner in his ‘60s living in Southwark and capture a wider sense of precariousness, neglect and lack of voice in the face of London’s ongoing gentrification.

Henry happens to be white – but his experience of injustice and prejudice is shared by people of colour interviewed for the same research. Where people engaged with public services, especially housing, policing and social care, they felt treated with indignity and indifference.

Decades of blaming the poor and migrant has led to a punitive culture within our public services which affects all working-class people, white or otherwise, as they see their voices and needs  being routinely ignored.

This is one reason why we need more locally devolved services: to strengthen working class, BME and migrant voices. Terms like “co-production” may sound thinktanky, but the aim is a democratic one: to ensure that those most affected by a service – such as housing services – or decision actually have a say in how that service is delivered.

Devolution isn’t just about putting more power in local rather than national government; it’s also about devolving power more directly to people, through community organisations and charities that are often better placed to represent and understand local needs and experiences.

The British working class has been multi-ethnic for centuries. Working class communities aren’t the same everywhere but they do experience the shared conditions of lack of resources, and lack of voice or power.

By always foregrounding Brexit when we talk about class, we not only miss these shared conditions among working class people across the UK, but deflect from the solutions that might actually address them.

If we’re serious about actually tackling race and class inequalities and prejudice, we need to put down the Brexit – or any other – hammer. Instead we need to change how we think and talk about race and class, invest more in the safety net, and redesign public services to provide those using them with greater dignity, voice and power.

Dr Omar Khan is director of the Runnymede Trust