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.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.