Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Women for Cycling

A few of Atlanta's female cyclists and transportation leaders met on Sunday to talk about cycling promotion. Well, when I say transportation 'leaders', I mean the director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, the regional bicycle planner, and me. Women hold a number of other influential transportation positions in the Atlanta region (from the director of MARTA to the city transportation planner), so we hope to hold future meetings with a larger group. Brunch was followed by a short field trip to see a new "art" bicycle rack.
Rebecca and Lyuba discuss a new bicycle rack installation at Georgia State University
While eyecatching, the rack had very few places to securely support and lock a bicycle, especially with racks or fenders mounted.
Why women? The question I often get is, why should we worry about this? There are so few cyclists in Atlanta, compared to other places, shouldn't we worry about total numbers rather than these little details? But that's the point. If women rode bicycles at the same rates as men, total ridership numbers would nearly double. Well, in most cities. Actually, Atlanta looks pretty good in this respect. Measured ridership in 2008 was about half a percent for both men and women (figures from the 2008 American Community Survey -see link for more info).

Other reasons include equity and social justice, the potential influence over kids (the next generation of bicycle riders), and the idea that true bicycle culture can't evolve unless everyone can do it. If women don't feel comfortable riding under current conditions, what about children and the elderly? Ironically, TV and print ads that show bicycles tend to show female riders. This seems to signal a safe and pleasant community.

Expanded ridership also brings cycling into a social realm. Can you ride with your friends, family, or colleagues? If three people want to go out to dinner by bicycle and the fourth person objects, the whole group may default back to driving. Also, many women approach me with questions about clothing, children, and personal safety. I'm always happy to share my opinions, but we also need a more permanent resource.

However, the simple desire for safe, equitable, and efficient multimodal transportation is still seriously misunderstood. A little controversy erupted recently over national transportation commissioner LaHood's recent suggestion that USDOT stop marginalizing pedestrian and bicycle travel. The arguments bordered on silly - are we going to start shipping freight by interstate backpack? They were also clearly misinformed. For one thing, a significant amount of freight transport does occur by 'alternative' modes - think of freight rail, postal routes on foot, bicycle couriers, or the light vehicles (from ATVs to golf carts) used on farms and campuses.

More seriously, these arguments fail to acknowledge serious problems in the current transport system that do affect efficiency, economic stability, and even the trucking industry. Freight trucks all over the country contend with traffic every day. Sometimes they get stuck in hours of rush hour traffic, surrounded by motorists who might prefer to be on a commuter train or a cycle track - but there isn't one. Other trucks get stuck in line with hundreds of cars waiting to drop off or pick up children from school, that happens to be along the route to a distribution center or factory. Many of those children may live within a few miles of the school, easy cycling distance even for a child. But their subdivision and their school probably don't connect. If they're like most developments, they can only be accessed from the local major road or highway, and that road probably doesn't have a sidewalk or bicycle facilities. So even though it is in cycling distance, they would have to go out and ride their bike on a busy highway with trucks and high-speed traffic. 

So no, equalizing bicycle traffic does not mean eliminating motor vehicle facilities. Actually, it means enabling trips to be made by the most efficient mode possible. For many short personal trips, that may be cycling, walking, or heading over (by whatever mode) to the transit station. And many freight trips can continue to be made by foot, bike, or train as well. Maybe some urban deliveries will be taken up by light vehicle - which is okay...who wants to navigate a semi truck downtown anyway? And all those freight trips that are an appropriate distance and location for trucking can be made more safely and efficiently, drivers' time on the road can be more predictable and less frustrating. Crazy, huh?

So, we'll keep meeting, keep explaining, and keep pedaling until our trips are taken as seriously as any other.
Posing with Rebecca and Everett (in the trailer)


  1. Why wasn't I invited to the influential cycling women in Atlanta meeting?

  2. I guarantee the next meeting will be advertised, and I hope you will attend! This was sort of a planning session... Next meeting will be in June and announced here.

  3. I judged the four submissions for the GSU art bike rack competition. This was the best one. Others were to be shaped like upside down antlers (serious dangers to eyes and heads, and difficult to access); a smile with googly eyes (think typical comb racks, only tapered upward at the end and giant eyeballs preventing bicyclists throwing their front wheels over); and a gnarled concrete tree (would scrape paint, and would only really work with long cables, not at all with U-locks). The BIKE bike rack was the best of the bunch.

    It is crucial to have more women cyclists, I agree. Atlanta's ridership already borders on a sausage party.

  4. Kyle! Where have you been?

    I know, I hate to say anything critical of the project. I'm friends with the project manager (a former advisor from my master's). I'm sure it does get attention from people in the area. Well, live and learn!

  5. We need to keep striving for a better bicycling experience here in Atlanta. Safe bike lanes and more of them. More bike racks and bike parking. Congenial service from bike shops. A city-wide bike-sharing program. The list goes on. More women will bike when comfort, convenience and safety are part of the equation.

    (From what I gather from Kyle's comments — these apparently weren't industrial design students designing these racks.)

  6. I have been sequestered at the New Job, running and riding all over the place! I hope to see you soon on the streets.

    No, these weren't industrial designers, but sculpture students with big hearts and good intentions. It'll come along.

    (By the way, I only parked my bike at that rack location once when I worked at GSU. The kids waiting for the shuttle played with my gears and shoved Chick-fil-A wrappers in my spokes.)