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."