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August 23, 2013

Bike Share Helps to Close Gender Gap

Bike laneIn a blog post a couple of weeks ago, I discussed the gender gap in biking citing a new report, Women on a Roll. The report, which was created by Women Bike, a new program from the League of American Bicyclists, outlined its accomplishments toward achieving gender equality in biking. In 2009, women only accounted for 24 percent of all bike trips.

In some cities, however, the numbers were a little better: in Boston and Philadelphia, women account for 32 percent of bike trips each year. In other countries, the numbers are even better. In the Netherlands, women account for 55 percent of bike trips annually, whereas in Germany, this number is 49 percent.

The good news, however, is that in the U.S., the movement toward gender equality in biking has already had some amazing achievements:

  • Women make up 60 percent of bicycle owners aged 17-28 years old.
  • From 2003 to 2012, the number of women participating in bicycling rose 20 percent.
  • The number of women and girls who ride bikes rose 20 percent compared to a 0.5-percent decline among men from 2003 to 2012.
  • Forty-five percent of paid staff at bicycle advocacy organizations are women.

So how do we go even further to ensure that more women ride bikes? Bike shares are but one solution towards achieving gender equality in the sport.

According to a report, 43 percent of bike-share users in North America are female. In Boston, a similar report found that 47 percent of Hubway users, the city’s bike share program, are female. Additionally, in 2012, 45 percent of Capital Bikeshare members in Washington D.C. were women.

But how do bike shares help to reduce the gender gap in biking? Carolyn Szczepanski, director of communications for Women Bike, noted that bike shares address most of the issues with biking that women commonly cite. Szczepanski explained that bike shares allow for easy access and convenience to multiple destinations. They are multi-purpose and accessible for short trips, allowing women to bike in regular clothes and feel comfortable while they’re riding. Bike shares allow women to feel more connected to a community. Additionally, bike shares address some of the problems of snobbery and machismo that women have faced in many bike shops.

Bike share systems are becoming more common in U.S. cities. Launched in 2010, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare was one of the first bike share programs in the country. Citi Bike, the largest bike-share program in the country, with 6,000 bicycles, just launched in May. This summer, Chicago created a 4,000-bike system, and the San Francisco Bay Area will launch its program at the end of the month with 700 bikes.

With an increase in bike-share programs, we might see in the upcoming years more women participating in the sport. Bicycling is not only good for your health and beneficial for community building, but it's also good for the environment by replacing vehicles that run on fossil fuels. Let's move beyond oil and gas and move toward clean, green transportation.

-- Lindsay Garten, Sierra Club Media Intern

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