Why don’t women bike as much as men? It’s a question that’s been getting a lot of press for the last three years or so since the explosion of Women Bike onto the national advocacy scene. Only about 24 percent of bikes on the street have women’s butts on them. What’s going on?
The conventional wisdom is that women are just more risk-averse. The need to get more women biking is often mentioned as one of many reasons for building safe, protected bike infrastructure for all ability levels. The Bike League’s Women on a Roll report named five C’s of women biking: comfort, convenience, consumer products, confidence, and community. But they forgot one: Chores.
An article in last Friday’s Guardian by UCLA academics Kelcie Ralph and Herbie Huff has been clanging around in my head since I read it. The reason women make up more than half of cyclists in the Netherlands and less than a quarter here isn’t simply due to skittishness about biking in traffic, Ralph and Huff argue. It’s about household inequality, plain and simple.
“In short, despite years of progress, American women’s lives are still disproportionately filled with driving children around, getting groceries, and doing other household chores,” they write — “housework that doesn’t lend itself easily to two-wheeled transportation.”
Transportation research in the United States focuses disproportionately on the “journey to work” because that’s the only trip we have Census data on. But the journey to work makes up only about 16 percent of all trips. According to a recent study by Ralph and her colleagues at UCLA and Rutgers, “travel for other, more domestic purposes — shopping (21 percent), family errands (22 percent), and school/church (10 percent) — collectively (53 percent) make up a much, much larger share of all personal travel.” And women make the lion’s share of those trips.