Photo courtesy of www.oldbike.eu
A new study from the Mineta Transportation Institute, An Examination of Women's Representation and Participation in Bicycle Advisory Committees in California, paints a disappointing picture of the role women play--or don't play--in the development of bicycle and pedestrian policy in our state. In a review of 42 government-formed bicycle and bicycle/pedestrian advisory committees throughout California, authors Hilary Nixon and Cathy DeLuca found that women made up only about 19 percent of members on all bicycle advisory committees and 24 percent of members on all bicycle/pedestrian committees. Further, women were the majority on only three committees.
This matters, because women's travel is different than men's. Women do more "trip-chaining" (linking a trip to work with a trip to school with a trip to the grocery store), take more shopping trips, and carry more associated baggage--and children--when they travel than men. Issues surrounding safety and security play a different role in the travel of women than men. Where a man might think nothing of walking down a dimly-lit street or an empty alley, a woman might change her route to avoid them--or choose not to walk at all. This isn't to say men never face danger on the street, but they're less likely to change their travel patterns because of it.
When women's voices aren't part of the dialogue about bicycle and pedestrian policy, the particular challenges that female cyclists and walkers face might never come up. This can lead to transportation systems that don't "work" for the women who rely on them.
In interviews with committee members, the authors attempted to understand the cause of the gender disparity on bike and pedestrian committees. Many of the interviewees cited the "male-dominated nature" of the committees as part of the problem. Not only did it discourage women from joining committees, it made them hesitant to voice their opinions or engage fully in policy discussions.
"When the other members of the committee laughed at bicyclists who were afraid of riding on [a certain road], in an area that terrifies me, I was sure I didn’t belong there."And there were other things that kept women from coming to the table. According to the study, the top five barriers to committee involvement named by the women were:
- Time (60%)
- Lack of qualifications (25%)
- Lack of specific information about the committee (18%)
- Family and household responsibilities (16%)
- Lack of interest in politics (12%)
"The real advocate for Safe Routes to School was [a woman] … Perhaps her being a mother could have been an impetus "The study offers a number of different solutions to the problem of women's underrepresentation in advisory committees. Some of their suggestions:
- Governments and agencies can expand their outreach efforts to women’s organizations (women’s clubs, mother’s clubs) and to organizations in which women are very active
- Individual committee members can be asked to encourage women they know to apply
- The chair and/or staff support person(s) should facilitate the meetings in a manner that gives all members an opportunity to speak and that prevents dominant members from monopolizing. A formal turn-taking process could be instituted as part of this effort
- The government or agency could institute term limits. This is especially important on committees with a longstanding male majority.
As disheartening as it is for me, a woman who is theoretically of the "post-feminist" generation, to still be writing about how to bring women to the policy table, Nixon and DeLuca's study provides valuable insight into the specific problems women face as they jostle for a seat. I hope we can pay attention to them as we set the bicycle and pedestrian agenda for the next generation.