News / Vancouver

Women cyclists more put off by traffic than men: study

New UBC study finds a gender gap could be derailing efforts to boost biking. But getting a handle on it would help all ages, genders and abilities, author argues.

Alyshia Burak, bike education manager at the B.C. group HUB, cycles near the group's Vancouver offices surrounded by vehicle traffic.

Supplied/Alyshia Burak/HUB

Alyshia Burak, bike education manager at the B.C. group HUB, cycles near the group's Vancouver offices surrounded by vehicle traffic.

It’s probably not shocking to hear that most cyclists don’t enjoy riding surrounded by fast-moving cars and trucks.

But a new study suggests that more women than men say their hopes of commuting by bike are derailed by inadequate infrastructure to protect them from traffic.

The data behind the University of British Columbia study, published recently in the Journal of Transport and Land Use, showed that even though women tend to make up roughly the same number of commuters in Vancouver, they made up a much smaller portion of cyclists — about one-third.

But break that down further, and it turns out that in neighbourhoods where cycling is the least popular comparatively, women made up merely one-in-ten bikers.

In neighbourhoods where more people overall cycle to get around, Teschke found, women actually rose to 44 per cent of cyclists, nearing half.

“It’s not really a big surprise to me,” said Alyshia Burak, bike education manager at the cycling advocacy group HUB. “A lot of research has shown that women prefer to ride on protected bike lanes or use good cycling infrastructure; this just re-emphasizes that …

“If we want to see people of all ages, genders and abilities cycling more often, we really need to build all-ages-and-abilities cycling routes and cycling-connected cities.”

That’s true even in Canada’s most cyclist-friendly cities, considered by many to be Montreal and Vancouver, according to the report.

“We consistently see that women prefer to ride in places where there’s either low traffic or where they’re separated physically from traffic,” explained one of the co-authors, Kay Teschke, a University of British Columbia population and public health professor. “Men also prefer those route types, but women are less tolerant of route types that mix them with heavy or fast traffic.”

At HUB meanwhile, Burak said the frequent cycling safety courses the group offers across Metro Vancouver saw women make up roughly six-in-ten participants.

“Education can play a big part in making women feel safer cycling,” she said. “Many people coming into our courses aren’t as aware they have the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicles.

“When they take a course, they walk away more confident feeling safe to cycle in the city … I don’t know this connects to gender, but my gut says the longer you cycle and more aware you are of your rights, the more comfortable you feel.”

Teschke said that improving bike routes — particularly the how well-connected popular destinations are to each other, and how uninterrupted the cycling network is overall — is key to increasing bikes’ mode-share. And a gender lens might help close the gender gap she found.

 “Having good bike infrastructure would make more of a difference to whether more women take up cycling,” she said. “That’s shown very clearly.”

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