The Freezing NYC-DC Bike Ride to Support Women in Cycling

The 2014 National Bike Summit is underway in our nation’s capital, starting with the Women’s Bicycling Forum, with its focus on expanding the share of women on two wheels. You can follow along on Twitter at #womenbike. In 2009, according to the League of American Bicyclists, women accounted for just 24 percent of bike trips in the country.

A team of 11 women made the journey to the Summit in DC from New York City by bike, working their way 262 miles through some of the East Coast’s major metropolises. Among the participating groups were We Bike NYC, Gearing-Up, Black Women Bike DC, the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, and the Philadelphia Bike Coalition. They call their pilgrammage We Bike to DC.

Streetsblog’s Tanya Snyder caught up with a few of the riders after their arrival last night. Kristina Sepulveda of We Bike NYC, a women’s bike advocacy organization, said the journey helped illuminate the connection between transportation and inequality in the U.S.

“One of the high points for me was to see the income inequality that goes through each city and to see how much work has to be done and to see how much of that poverty is connected to transportation,” she said.

Sepulveda works with low-income groups in NYC, and she sees the effect of limited transportation options all the time. ”A lot of people I work with in New York City don’t live near transit, and in New York City that makes life very difficult,” she said. “If they were able to have a bicycle and safe routes, they would be able to do things like go to work and go to school safely.”

She said that despite New York City’s tremendous progress on bike infrastructure, unsafe streets still force her to drive her 11-mile commute from the northern part of Queens to the southernmost end of Brooklyn.

“Most of my route does not have bike lanes at all,” she said. “The couple times I have done it is a little terrifying.”

In countries with more protected bike infrastructure, there is much greater parity between men and women who bike. In fact, in the Netherlands, women bike more than men.

Sepulveda and her team set out from New York on Thursday and were accompanied by a van service donated by Women Tours. They raised $15,000 for the trip, enough for everyone to stay in hotels. That was fortunate, because the weather was colder than they hoped for, according to Casey Ashenhurst, also of We Bike NYC.

“The low point for me was definitely the weather,” she said. “It didn’t get above freezing until mid-way through the second day.” In one portion of New Jersey, pedestrian paths were so icy and impassable that they were all forced to carry their bikes over their heads, she said. Eventually, they piled into the van and drove about 30 miles to a highway where they could safely bike again.

But Ashenhurst added that taking to the open road with some of her peers was exhilarating.

“The high point of the trip for me was biking, being able to stretch my legs on the open road,” she said. “New York has a lot of amazing greenways and bike paths along the water, but it’s not the same as being able to go mile after mile on roads with grass and trees.”