What’s the Path to Equity for Women in Cycling?

Last week, about 375 people attended the National Women’s Bike Forum the day before the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC. It was the third women’s forum, an event that seeks to empower female bike advocates and confront issues that contribute to women’s low cycling rate relative to men in the United States. (Just 24 percent of bike trips nationwide in 2009.)

At last count, women made up just 23 percent of commuter cyclists in the U.S. Photo: Philly.com
In 2009, the last year for which data is available, women accounted for 24 percent of bike trips in the U.S. Photo: Philly.com

Elly Blue at Taking the Lane explains that there was some debate about the approach:

There’s been some buzz online — does it make sense to have a separate women’s event? Does it help or does it segregate? Is the women’s forum the reason that the ensuing National Bike Summit was largely populated and led by white men? Does having a separate event mean women are accepting “separate but equal” status? Or is it empowering? Or a little of both? A lot of folks are talking about this, and with a lot of uncertainty.

Blue says she takes inspiration from one of her mentors in publishing, who said members of an excluded group in a movement or community have three options:

You can join something and change it from within.

Or you can fight it, defining yourself in opposition to it.

Or you can start your own version, in parallel — building it from the ground up and getting it right, creating a counter-example that the original alienating thing itself will, if it intends to survive, eventually end up emulating.

The path I’ve chosen is the parallel one. And that’s what I hope will happen with the National Women’s Bicycling Forum. What if it became the main event, and bicycle advocacy heading into the future was primarily led by diverse women with a grassroots ethos? It’s entirely possible, since both events are organized by the same people at the League of American Bicyclists. So why not? If we want the movement to stay relevant and become more effective, that’s where the shift will happen.

Blue said she is starting a forum called the Wheelwomen Switchboard, open to all women cyclists, to help keep the conversation going year round.

Elsewhere on the Network today: ATL Urbanist remembers urban thinker Lewis Mumford, whose ideas about livable cities seem all the more relevant more than 20 years after his death. BikeWalkLee reports that Florida Governor Rick Scott has named March the state’s bike month, acknowledging cycling’s benefits to the economy, public health, and transportation system. And Better Cities & Towns! says we need “a new math” to build the cities we want.

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