There are things I never would have understood were I not a lifelong cyclist.
And there things I never would have understood were I not a transgender woman who, in middle age, decided to live her life by her true gender identity.
Sometimes they intersect.
To wit: Contrary to what some believe, laws and policies against discrimination and harassment--or that allow people to marry whomever they please--don't give "special privileges" to women, members of racial and ethnic "minorities," disabled people and those who aren't heterosexual or don't idenitfy with the gender binary. Rather, those laws and policies are made so that the people I've mentioned have the same rights, protections and guarantees that men, cisgender people, heterosexuals and members of the "majority" race, culture and religion (white Christians in the US) take for granted.
When I was living as a male who was presumed to be cisgender and heteorsexual, I never had to think about such rights and guarantees. In fact, I didn't even know that I didn't have to think about them. There probably are still privileges I have and never think about because well, I'm still White.
Likewise, while they complain about the price of gas or highway tolls, most American motorists have no idea of how much their driving is subsidized, and how much of the landscape has been re-formed for them. Many also don't realize how much of a sense of entitlement they've developed about "their" roads and public spaces. That is why they are upset when a lane is "taken" from them and "given" to cyclists and pedestrians.
And, while I laud any attempt to promote cycling and decrease dependence on anything that burns fossil fuels, I have come to realize that, too often, planners have their own unquestioned assumptions about who rides, and how and why.
Is it coincidence that as I have been thinking about such issues and how to articulate them, I should chance upon an article that discusses them? That article--which appeared first in Streetsblog and was reprinted in Greater Greater Washington--cites a study, published in Transport Reviews, that indicates the best way to cast the bicycle as a viable mode of transportation, and not merely as a toy for kids or the trust-fund crowd--and simply to get more people on bicycles--is to get more women to cycle.
|Photo by Joe Flood, licensed under Creative Commons|
And how do we get more female-identified* folk on two wheels? Understand how and why we ride--which, of course, will lead to a greater understanding of why some won't ride.
Perhaps it will come as no surprise that countries where cycling is really a part of people's everyday lives--in other words, where it's seen as much a part of the transportation system as driving or taking buses, trains or planes--are also the countries with the largest proportions of female cyclists. As you might have guessed, those countries include the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland--and Japan.
The reason I call particular attention to Japan is that, unlike the other countries, it has few segregated bike lanes and relatively little cycling-specific infrastructure, at least in comparison to Northern European countries. But there is a culture of cycling--and, more important, a recognition of how and why women ride, and how it's different from men's riding.
The study shows that women who cycle are doing so for transportation at roughly the same rate as men. But in most places, "transportation" for men means, mainly, going to and from the job. On the other hand, women are more likely to combine errands on a bike trip--say, to drop off their kids at daycare and go to the store. This is particularly true in Japan, where women are still likely to leave the paid workforce after giving birth.
So how does that affect bike infrastructure planning? Well, I think that if a useful bike lane were to be built, it should connect residential areas, not only with office buildings, schools or factories, but also with shopping areas, whether they're "Main Streets," malls or farmer's markets. And, bike lanes should run, not only to or through parks, but also to museums and other venues.
Another finding of the study is something that doesn't surprise me: Women are less willing to ride in traffic or in non-protected bike lanes. I don't think we have a greater fear of traffic. (Perhaps we're just smarter ;-)) Rather, women--and children-- are less vulnerable to harassment and intimidation in a protected bike lane.
While we're on the subject of infrastructure: One thing that, I believe, would make cycling safer and more convenient for women is more safe and clean public toilets and washrooms. I used to joke that rest stops on bike rides are the only occasions when the lines to use the men's room are longer than those for the women's room. Then again, I have discovered--as a result of my gender-affirmation process--that there are also fewer women's or gender-neutral bathrooms.
Anyway, I found it interesting that the study in question shows how the world of cycling can be a mirror for society: If more women cycle, more people cycle. What equality means is that everyone wins, or at least no one loses.
*--The study stuck to traditional definitions of men and women. I think it would be interesting, and useful, to look at the reasons why non-binary people ride, or don't, ride bicycles--and whether their patterns of riding align with those of their chosen or given gender identity.