May the Goddess Protect Us….

It’s often been said that women are an “indicator species” for cycling–that is, that if women are riding bikes around the city in pretty good numbers, then it’s a good city for cycling.

By that standard, maybe Los Angeles isn’t doing so well. Here, as in most US cities, twice as many men ride bikes on the street as do women.

A young woman commuting to work on her bicycleBy contrast, in Germany (where 12% of all transport journeys are by bike) 49% of riders are women, and in Holland, it’s 55%–women outnumber men! (And bikes are used for 27% of all trips.) (From an article in Scientific American.)

Of course, barely 2% of US trips are made on bikes (for now). There are some exceptions, such as Portland’s nearly 7%, which San Francisco and Minneapolis have matched lately. But overall, cycling is still seen as something “special,” for “enthusiasts.” Whereas in Northern Europe (and most of Asia), cycling is just something you do to get around, on bikes that are no more special than, say, a Toyota Corolla is among cars.

In other words, the US bike market is the equivalent of a country where car dealers sold nothing but Porsches and Jeeps, and only reluctantly would show you a sedan or station wagon.

And of course there’s the whole fear thing.

Riding in traffic is not really all that unsafe. But it feels unsafe, and no one wants to feel uncomfortable as they ride.

It’s similar to the SUV phenomenon. SUVs are, among cars, more dangerous to their occupants (and others) than are sedans. But they feel safe, so people drive them confidently. (Not to mention arrogantly!)

Likewise, bike lanes–especially separated bike lanes–feel safe, though they have safety issues that street riding doesn’t, even in Europe. These are caused mostly by the increased number of intersections with road traffic they create.

But what bike lanes do is get more people riding, and, over and over again, it has been found that large numbers of riders on the roads (or even next to the roads) condition drivers to look for cyclists, and so make all riders safer. This is the famous “safety in numbers” effect.

Also, separated bike lanes, bicycle boulevards, and the like bring out more women riders.

And of course Dr. Ian Walker’s study showed that [British] drivers gave more room when passing to the same rider when he was dressed in drag as when he was identifiably male–and even more if he was not wearing a helmet.

So it seems that safety follows from infrastructure not so much because of the paint or berms themselves, but because the perception of safety that they create in potential cyclists gets more people out on bikes, and especially more women–and that that is what creates safer streets.

More on women and cycling at Bicycle Fixation in Gina’s report on an APBP survey of women riders.

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  1. Posted June 24, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I find it appalling the level of rationalization and the moral Bankruptcy that the cycling community is developing around the issue of bike lanes. So bike lanes are acceptable because, you see, despite the proven fact that they significantly worsen the safety conditions for each individual unaware rider, they, thanks to the magical-and-oh-so-convenient “safety in numbers” effect, they improve the safety conditions of the cycling groups as a whole? Oh really?

    You should be ashamed to propagate so thoughtlessly this kind of segregationist status-quo gibberish.

  2. Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Bullshit. Vehicular cycling, which I myself practice, has been “promoting” cycling in the US and Australia for forty years now, with a grand total mode share for cycling in this country of less than 2%–and the highest fatality rate for cyclists of any First World country. Six times as many deaths per 100kms cycled as in Holland.

    And the Dutch (and Germans), with their paths, see far more cycling than we do. 27% mode share in Holland, about 12% in Germany. In Seville, after they put in those horrid paths you hate, cycling mode share jumped to 10X its previous level.

    The safety in numbers effect works protects road cyclists as well as path users.

    The British study linked to below shows the “safety in numbers” effect working whether a country has separated bike leans (eg Holland) or not (eg France); HOWEVER, it points out that vehicular cyclists are safer only in countries, such as france, where a large (not marginal) cycling culture already exists. This is not the US. It is not present-day Britain either, but it was Britain in the 1950s.

    Really, all we have to do is to build cycling infrastructure for the less but NOT let it be made mandatory; that will benefit the tiny minority of vehicular cyclists as well as the vast pool of latent but nervous future cyclists.

  3. Posted June 25, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    I love it when self-styled “vehicular cyclists” go straight ahead to show that they don’t have the faintest idea of what “a vehicular cycling promotion policy” would be like. So you would caracterize what has been happening in the US and Australia is “vehicular promotion of the bicicle”? Just that statement makes it look you like an idiot, an ignorant, or a bikelaneist lying out of both corners of his mouth.

    If there were any doubt that you don’t know (or, just as likely, dont’t want to know) what you are talking about, your mention of the cycling modal share in Seville just hammers the last nail in the coffin of your credibility. Just FYI, everyting you have been told (and parrotted) about Ciclying in Seville is a complete political fraud, and moreover, a fraud sustained and propagated by thoughtless minions like you appear determined to be.

    (You can check a non-exhaustive analysis of the fraud, and the humilliation it plays on the segregationist tribe, in this comment and the links in it: )

    Of course, once le level of your discourse has been stablished by your peculiar definition of “vehicular promotion of the bicycle” and your comical reference to Seville, it is not hard to see that your mentions to the Netherlands and Germany, your interpretation of the SIN effect, and your fairy-tales about segregated structures that won’t be mandatory have exactly the same grip on reality that the Seville story has. But that would be too long to deconstruct here.

    In the end, your reply comes back as a very fitting example of exactly what I mentioned in my first comment: the strenuous effort you segregationist will do to fit facts to your fantasies.

  4. Posted June 25, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    What’s with this Txarli character? Is he some kind of vehicular cycling nazi? Is he unable to respond to a person’s opinion (the post author’s) without resorting to name calling and hatred?

    Surveys have shown (for example in Calgary and Portland) that a majority of the population would like to cycle more, but has concerns. If we can address the safety concerns of this majority, we will see a large increase in the number of riders. NYC has seen big jumps since they started putting in bike lanes. And in Montreal, traffic on some bike paths is up FIVE times in two years.

    Physically separated facilities do not just appear safer, they are safer. Sure, you still have intersections to deal with, but intelligent design (no, not *that* kind!) can help: advance green for cyclists, for example. And on these cycle tracks, you eliminate the risk of the deadly door prize, and the “teach ’em a lesson by buzzing them” car pass.

    I’m a vehicular cyclist, and have been for three decades, and I’ve got to say that it’s this approach that is bankrupt – for all of its efforts, it hasn’t increased the number of cyclists in N.America to any observable extent. Meanwhile, the cities that are providing physically separated facilities are seeing large increases. And I like seeing more bikes!

  5. Jim Cooper
    Posted June 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Whoa! Txarli is funny- but he has got me riled up. I notice on my bicycle commute from the Santa Ana Metrolink Station down Grand Ave to my workplace on Edinger Blvd that the pedestrians and all the bicycle riders except me are hogging the sidewalks. This is not fair! We need to open up the sidewalks to automobiles. This would thin out the traffic lanes where I ride. It would also thin out the dimwits and other people who are completely unaware of their surroundings. Grand Avenue is tricky, it’s constantly going back and forth from 2 to 3 lanes per side and the gutters are peppered with dead birds, mufflers, and an occasional abandoned dishwasher. As a former motorcyclist, I know exactly where I stand in the pecking order. I never force my right of way, I assume that I am invisible, and I am always courteous. Mixing it up with fast cars, slow dump trucks, buses, and 18 wheelers keeps me alert, and my survival depends only on me. It shure would be nice to have a proper Bike lane though. Anyway- have fun. Coop
    Oh, Richard, hope to see you on a future brewery ride.

  6. Posted June 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Jim, we need to have a ride on Grand Ave! I love the description:

    “Grand Avenue is tricky, it’s constantly going back and forth from 2 to 3 lanes per side and the gutters are peppered with dead birds, mufflers, and an occasional abandoned dishwasher.”

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