Build for Women, and Ridership will increase

(image from

We’ve noted this on multiple occasions here at BFOC, but this recent article in Scientific American goes into greater depth: “Addressing women’s concerns about safety and utility “will go a long way” toward increasing the number of people on two wheels.”

Rutgers Planning Professor and bike scholar, John Pucher (who we’ve noted in the past), goes on to explain, ” In the U.S., most cycling facilities consist of on-street bike lanes, which require riding in vehicle-clogged traffic. And when cities do install traffic-protected off-street bike paths, they are almost always along rivers and parks rather than along routes leading to the supermarket, the school, the day care center.”

The article goes on to state, “Other data support those findings. In New York City, men are three times as likely to be cyclists as women. Yet a bicycle count found that an off-street bike path in Central Park had 44 percent female riders. ‘Within the same city you find huge deviations in terms of gender,’ Pucher remarks.”

Copenhagen and Amsterdam’s success at attracting many people to cycling was based on focusing on women and children, and their natural aversions to risk. This presentation gives a breakdown of the actual ridership numbers and how they changed once Copenhagen began adopting a large bicycle infrastructure network beginning in the 1970’s. Though the city had always been known for a cycling culture, ridership levels were dropping at dramatic rates in the early 70’s, so planners quickly looked at what was creating this drop, and noted that the focus on auto-centric planning was the culprit. As soon as accommodations were made to address cyclists and to raise the perception of safety, ridership not only returned, but exploded. In Dallas, the previous bicycle coordinator attempted to focus on an education only campaign, to try and persuade riders that cycling on the streets with cars was just as safe and that separated paths were not only expensive, but dangerous. Fortunately, all major cities in the US have moved away from this position and are now implementing very successful bicycle programs as noted here. Not only has ridership increased, but most importantly, so has safety…a win, win.

The success of “complete streets” advocacy in cities such as San Francisco, Portland, New York, and Chicago has clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of infrastructural enhancement.– Paul Dorn, League Cycling Instructor (#1237)


  1. sleepypasture · ·

    SUCH a great article, and it reiterates EVERYTHING BFOC has been saying and proposing since its inception. Loved the last paragraph:

    “Ahead of the curve may be New York City, where about five miles of traffic-protected bike lanes have recently been installed. Credit goes to the new Department of Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who is upending the department’s long-standing focus on trucks and automobiles. Remarks Pucher: ‘A woman cyclist became head of the DOT, and wonderful things started happening.'”

  2. miss dangerous · ·

    I mean… I get that some women are more cautious than others, but i think it’s a little much to generalize building bike lanes for us ‘cautious’ women. I’m not a huge feminist, but I know when biking I get a huge kick out of weaving through cars, (I guess you could call it riding dangerously – I call it fun.) But yeah… this article generalizes just a little too much for me.

  3. @miss dangerous

    As a mom, you’ll never see me getting a “kick out of weaving through cars”. Maybe I just fit the generalization, but the idea of that is so scary to me, and imaging my kids saying something like that would be enough to send me to the looney bin. 🙂

    I did notice the Scientific American article was written by a woman.

  4. […] just linked to a thoughtful Scientific American piece about a correlation between gender roles and cycling […]

  5. miss dangerous · ·

    dear abbey,

    I did notice it was written by a woman. and i totally understand why a woman with kids, such as yourself, would not want to throw caution to the wind. I guess maybe this article, when referring to women is referring mostly to mothers. That would make more sense as to why they would want routes to schools and day care centers. But they didn’t really specify that, and the broad category of “women” can include even young women (in their early/mid-20’s) like me… who do not fit these statements/generalizations. Maybe we were supposed to be able to see that assumption in the article, but it would have been nice if she made that more clear…

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