Sunday, August 26, 2012

Women on Bikes

Women on bikes.
I've been thinking about women and bicycling lately. Studies and statistics show that there are far fewer women who bike than men. Safety is seen as the culprit, robbing women of an otherwise healthy, fun activity. There are some studies that point out that when women feel safe enough to ride, that usually means that kids, the elderly and less-skilled bicyclists also find it safer to ride. So why aren't we building the bikeways that appeal to female riders?

I think it boils down to a lack of space and money. If there was more money (or if existing amounts were allocated differently), then we could design and build better bikeways and purchase the amount of land necessary to construct these facilities. If there was more space, then cramming bikes onto roadways wouldn't be part of the conversation.

Separated bikeways seem to appeal to women - and to children and the elderly. In the US, these are starting to be called separated bike lanes or cycle tracks. These are separated from car traffic using physical barriers instead of painted stripe on an existing roadway. They are different from paths because of the way they are interwoven into the urban landscape - typically alongside a road and/or sidewalk. 

Placing bikes and cars in close proximity to each other isn't all bad. When cars travel at low speeds, accidents are less likely to occur and to be severe or fatal. Neighborhood streets can be good areas for bikes and cars to interact and co-exist. Tipping points tend to be when traffic speeds are above 35 mph, there's a medium- to high-volume traffic and the types of automobiles are larger than your average mid-range SUV or truck. How many women as compared to men have you seen ride in bike lanes on roads such as this across the Upstate of South Carolina?

In the Upstate, many communities lack the money and space to install these kinds of facilities. Cycle tracks cost more to install. It's relatively inexpensive to redistribute space on a roadway if the painted lines just need to be adjusted to accommodate bikes. It's a whole other budget ball-game when extra asphalt and cement are needed to make way for a bikeway.

The idea of space for bikeways is complicated. Roads are owned and maintained by governments - local, county and state. The space a road can be on typically extends beyond the area that's paved to an area called a "right of way" or ROW. A government has the right to build or extend a road on the ROW. However, ROW are up against private property like homes and businesses. In many urban and suburban areas, the ROW is narrow and may have insufficient space for building a separated bike lane. The government would need to engage the private property owner to buy and build on their land, but that typically doesn't happen. And if it does, it's a long, involved process.

There are some pretty big odds to overcome in building bikeways that appeal to a wider audience. For now, I think building support for bikeways is an important step. Rome wasn't built in a day. And our national transportation system wasn't either. Road design is changing over time to accommodate different demands. I think it's healthy to recognize that building a bikeway network takes time and is part of an iterative process.

It's important to recognize where we are now and where we want to go. If building a bikeway network to support more cyclist is important, consider this:  Would you feel comfortable if your mom said she frequently rides on particular stretch of road? Maybe that's a good question to keep in mind as we work to build better bikeways in the Upstate.


  1. I would love to see a Pickens County bike trail like the Swamp Rabbit Trail - would definitely motivate me to dust the cobwebs off my bike!

  2. Agreed! Nothing nicer than a bike ride on a 65 degree Sat. afternoon in the fall (or spring!) Thanks for your comment.