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.

 
 
 
 

It’s time to rethink how the British railway network works

Nothing doing: commuters await a long-delayed train. Image: Getty.

The recent meltdowns on Northern and Thameslink not only left many passengers besides themselves with frustration about not being able to get to work on time, if at all. It also led to a firestorm of criticism and condemnation from politicians and media alike.

With the immediate shock of that first Monday morning of the meltdown passed, there’s a now a bigger debate about whether the way that rail services are provided for cities needs some far reaching reform. But before coming to that, the first thing to say – and as we set out in our Rail Cities UK report, launched today – is that the fundamentals for urban rail remain very strong.

Here’s why. All cities want to become denser, more dynamic places which attract the best people to the growth sectors of the economy (including the ‘flat white economy’ of media, communications and information). In order to achieve this, as well as to improve air quality, cities are also reducing space for motorised traffic in favour of space for people.

It’s very difficult to see how this can be achieved without expanding rail networks and their capacity. What’s more, if housing need is to be met without creating more sprawl and traffic congestion, then again its rail that will be key – because it opens up former rail-connected brownfield industrial sites, it extends commuting range, plus housing can be built above or around new or existing rail stations and interchanges.

In some ways there’s nothing new here. From Metroland to Docklands, successful cities have always grown with their rail networks. And to be fair, there is significant investment going into urban rail at present. Northern will get a lot better (the pacers are doomed) and both Merseyside and Tyne & Wear are getting a whole new fleet of trains for their urban rail networks.

However, much (but not all) of this investment is incremental, or replacing rolling stock on its last legs. It stops short of the wider vision for the rail cities that we need.


What would that look like in practice? There comes a point when the biggest cities need more cross-city routes, because running trains in and out of edge-of-centre termini can’t cope with the numbers. That explains the push for Crossrail 2 in London, but also the need for more cross-city capacity in cities like Birmingham (on the Snow Hill route) as well as in Manchester (on the Oxford Road to Manchester Piccadilly corridor, as well as a potential new underground route).

Tram-train technology can also help – allowing the lucky commuter that benefits to get on board at their local station and get off right outside their city centre office on main street in the city centre, rather than piling out at a Victorian railway terminal on the edge of that city centre.

Tram-trains aren’t the only tech fix available. Battery packs can extend the range of existing electric trains deeper into the “look ma, no wires” hinterlands, as well as allow trams to glide through city centres without the expensive clutter of overhead wires.

More mundane but equally useful work to increase capacity through signalling, station, track and junction work offers the opportunity to move to turn-up-and-go frequency networks with greater capacity and more reliability – networks that start to emulate the best of what comparable German rail cities already enjoy. Interlocking networks of long distance, regional express, regional, S-bahn, U-bahn, trams and buses, all under common ticketing.

But in talking about Germany and common ticketing I am now getting back to where I started around the debate on whether some fundamental change is needed on how urban rail networks are provided. Obviously there is a bigger national discussion going on about whether the current structure is just too layered, with too many costly interfaces and too fractured a chain of command. And in addition another, on whether the railway should be publicly or privately owned and operated.

But it’s been heartening to see the growing recognition that – regardless of how these debates are resolved – more devolution for urban and regional services should be part of any solution. That’s not only because fully devolved services have been out-performing comparators both operationally and in passenger satisfaction; it’s because local control rather than remote control from Whitehall will mean that the dots can be joined between rail and housing, between rail and the wider re-fashioning of city centres, and between rail and local communities (for example through repurposing stations as wider hubs for local community use, enterprises and housing). It will also allow for rail and the rest of local urban public transport networks to be part of one system, rather than be just on nodding terms as is all too often the case at present.

The crisis on Northern and Thameslink has been a miserable experience for rail users, affected cities and the rail industry. If any good has come out of it, it is that it shows how important rail is to cities, and opens up a space for some bigger thinking about what kind of rail cities we will need for the future – and how best we can make that happen.

Jonathan Bray is the Director of the Urban Transport Group which represents the transport authorities for the largest city regions. You can read the group’s full report here.