Time to shift away from the bike?

The following is a reflection from our Advocacy Intern Mandia Gonzales on her time at this year’s Oregon Active Transportation Summit.


At the 2014 Oregon Active Transportation Summit, Lake McTighe and Marne Duke from Metro, Janis McDonald from Portland Bureau of Transportation, and Elizabeth Williams from Coalition for a Livable Future, discussed how specific marketing campaigns and the creation of programs can influence societies perceptions of bicycling and encourage future ridership among women.

Women often make more of the household’s trips, yet women make half the number of bicycle trips that men do. The Women on Bikes breakout session stimulated the perceptions that people have about women on bikes, and offered suggestions on creating effective programs and marketing to encourage more bike usage among women.

Many of the panelists identified barriers that directly affect women’s ridership. These include, feeling safe on city streets, the fear of riding alone, and the fear of breaking down. All of which are valid concerns when you’re not a pro cyclists. They also stated other limitation, such as, women are unsure how to dress for riding a bike. Many women a have professions that require them to dress a certain way, so how do we show women that spandex is not needed to ride a bike.

“It’s just how you get around, not defining who you are” -Marne Duke

No offence to those who can pull off spandex, but many women don’t feel comfortable wearing tight revealing clothes! Lastly, one of the biggest constraints for women is time. Women often take care of children, run errands, work, etc. and these trips are often linked together with the use of a personal vehicle to maximize efficiency.

How do we then encourage women to bicycle having identified all of these barriers? It’s partially marketing on behalf of bike manufacturers and shops, combined with changing the social norms that allow women the freedom feel comfortable on a bike.

Encouraging women to ride bikes increases quality of life by provided empowerment, mobility, and better health, just to name a few.

The panelists encouraged public and private entities to seize the opportunities presented at the summit. Shift the focus away for the bike itself, to other actions or behaviors that we are trying to encourage.

“It’s just how you get around, not defining who you are,” explained Marne Duke

This can be done through encouraging short-trips to be made by bike, rather than emphasizing the bike as a lifestyle. But most importantly, show that other women are doing it too! This encourages and makes women comfortable about getting on a bike.

What to start encouraging women to ride? Here are some tips from our panelist…

  • Create programs that empower women – This can be done through the creation of programs and clinics that create safe and supportive places for women to learn to how to ride a bike, how to fix a bike, provide route planning, and host group rides with an educational element to create confidence while simultaneously creating a community of women bicyclists.
  • Consider equity within your programs – Alternate transportation modes are very important in many undeserved communities. Funding and programs should target these communities because the bike is an ideal way of creating a connection to work and education opportunities.
  • Breakdown stereotypes – Spandex is not required to ride a bike, and it’s ok for women with children or even pregnant women to ride bikes too.
  • Market goods and services directly to women – Painting a bike pink doesn’t make it a “women’s” bike. Women want comfortable, safe, affordable bikes and accessories regardless of paint color. Marketing either by companies or public entities need to show real women in their campaigns. This also means understanding the cultural differences among who you are targeting, and to represent the communities in a way that will encourage them use the bike.

Effective programs and marketing engage people and lead people to make different transportation choices. If done correctly, they can lead to lasting change that will benefit all of the community.

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