Survey: Women More Likely to Prefer Separated Bike Infrastructure

Photo:   New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center
Photo: New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center

What do women really want? A safe place to bike, according to a new survey.

Research presented at the British academic conference Cycling & Society Annual Symposium [PDF] helps confirm that nearly everyone — but women especially — prefer to bike in facilities that are separated from vehicle traffic.

The findings are based on interviews with 940 British men and women, completed as part of a dissertation by Anna Watt at the University of Birmingham. The results indicated a clear preference for trails — off-road routes through parks — over any other type of infrastructure. But women preferred them even more strongly. The second choice for both men and women was curb protected bike lanes.

Both men and women said safety was their top concern when it came to cycling. But after that, opinions varied, with men placing more importance on directness of bike routes and women willing to accept bigger detours in the name of safety.

Infrastructure preferences varied with cyclists’ experience. Both men and women non-cyclists strongly preferred off-street infrastructure. Bicyclists with a mid-level experience — especially men — showed stronger preferences for on-road infrastructure. Among the most-experienced cyclists, women still showed a preference for the off-road infrastructure, Watts found.

For practitioners, she told Streetsblog, that means “experience, training and type of cycling don’t affect preferences, so there is a limit to which behavioral interventions can go before the infrastructure is required.”

Women were also slightly less likely to wear a helmet every time they road a bike. And were more likely to say they wished they did not have to wear one (20 percent, versus 14 percent of men).

Watt’s study is certainly not the first time that women’s safety concerns have been shown to play a role in the persistent “gender gap” in cycling. But there is also evidence that education can also close the gap.

  • Setty/Steven

    A friend recently argued out to me that painting a bike lane where there is space for a protected lane is sexist. This study supports her position.

  • CarlessInOKC

    Seems like an oversimplification, and potentially letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  • Melissa McCurley

    Today I also came across a story about a spin class on a bus (https://news.northeastern.edu/2018/09/11/bike-around-the-city-from-the-comfort-of-your-own-bus/). How else are you going to get on a bike, get some exercise, and see some sights? In my opinion, the reason such a business can be successful is that a large portion of the population is afraid to bike on the streets. That’s a problem.

  • J

    More like making the wildly effective the enemy of the marginal improvement.

    The contexts in which striped bike lanes are actually effective are few and far between, which is why they are so rarely used in the Netherlands.

  • thielges

    True, it is by far the biggest problem to overcome in attracting more bicyclists. If people feel that they are flirting with death by bicycling, they’re going to switch to something else, probably driving. It doesn’t matter whether the hazard of death is real or not, all that matters is perception.

  • No, it’s just saying that priorities need to be changed. Take away the sacred cow of convenience for cars and a lot of things are suddenly viable.

  • CarlessInOKC

    Yeah, I get that cars are overprioritized. I am a reader of Streetsblog, after all.

  • CarlessInOKC

    Okay then. I’m going to keep supporting bike lanes, whether or not they are protected. Incremental progress is how we condition decision-makers to invest in things like protected bike lanes.

  • embarcadero

    Hey, you should play a race card there too.

    Always appropriate.

  • But a lot of regular bike lanes aren’t very good and some are downright bad.

  • Emmy Lors

    Would you want your wife or small kids riding their bike in an unprotected bike lane? Unprotected bike lanes are not family friendly, not safe for kids, women, and elderly. They are not safe for bike commuting or transportation. They are more suited to the few, generally athletic young males, who ride on weekends as a form of exercise or recreation when there is less traffic around. But 98% of the time, with few exceptions, no one actually uses unprotected bike lanes for cycling, for the reasons just mentioned (they are scary and rather unsafe).

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