How Cities Can Increase Cycling Among Women An Evaluation of: Portland, OR, Washington D.C., and Vancouver B.C.
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Bicycling, as a form of transportation, has been on the rise in the past few decades in North America as cities begin to realize the multiple benefits to the environment and physical health. Though there has been an increase in public interest, the percentage of people commuting by bike in the Unites States and Canada is only 0.6% and 1.3% respectively, according to the 2014 American Community Survey and 2011 Canadian Statistics. Even lower cycling rates are seen among women, who cycle at half the rate of men. Numerous studies have found common barriers for women cycling such as concerns about safety or traveling with children. Women have been called the “indicator species” to tell if a city is bike friendly so if cities want to increase people cycling in general, they should appeal to what women want. This study researched the characteristics and programs of Portland, OR, Washington D.C., and Vancouver B.C., to evaluate how they have been successful at achieving high percentages of women cycling. The cities were evaluated based on case studies of their environmental conditions and programs as well as 12 interviews with government agencies, advocacy groups, and bike experts. From the case studies and interviews, there were common elements that these three cities shared that contributed to high percentages of women cycling: • Transportation plans with ambitious bicycle mode share goals. • Safe infrastructure (neighborhood greenways, cycle tracks, protected lanes, or off-street paths) as the first priority. • Influential advocacy groups providing education and a social network. • Normalizing cycling through public bikeshare and marketing materials. • Convenient facilities including indoor or outdoor bike parking, bicycle transit integration, and showers in office buildings. • Safe Routes to School programs providing education and encouragement to kids and mothers as well as improving infrastructure around schools. An overall theme that resulted was that there are two components to increasing women biking: a physical and a psychological component. The physical component can be provided by government agencies in the form of the built environment and the psychological component can be provided by advocacy and grassroots organizations in the form of education, encouragement, and a social network. It is a combination of these agencies that help to provide the environment for women to bike as a means of transportation. The goal from this study is to provide examples of successful programs from the three model cities of Portland, OR, Washington D.C., and Vancouver B.C. and to understand what more is needed to make cycling a feasible mode of transportation for women.