Re-cycling decades of debate

Taking my reading this week (my EndNote library now stands at nearly 450 references, aaaaaah), it strikes me quite hard that cycling is an inherently female means of transport if we let it, see gender split in cycle share graph below, Pucher, Buehler (2012).

In low-cycling countries like the UK where there’s high inequality in the gender proportion however we have still quite a bit to learn. We have to listen to what women say and understand their (transport, employment and personal life) needs much better. The potential for levelling the transport playing field is immense and should be vastly rewarding and empowering for women too.

I looked at Census 2011 again as I did last week; this time plotting cycle mode share against women’s proportion in cycle commute, like Garrard, Handy and Dill had done in Pucher, Buehler’s (2012) City Cycling. A little word of caution: the census shows cycle commuting data not overall transport cycling – however as Goodman (2013) notices the correlation of 0.77 might be quite strong anyways. Here’s a statement replicated from Aldred et al (2015) commenting on suitability:

Clearly the Census data are limited in terms of transport information […] On the other hand, at the population level there is a 0.77 correlation between the proportion of adults who choose cycling as their ‘usual main commute mode’ and the modal share of cycling as a proportion of total travel time (Goodman, 2013). Moreover, because the Census covers everyone, it is particularly suitable for exploring minority participation in minority modes at the local level: this would not be possible with a sample survey such as the National Travel Survey or the Active People Survey.

Fig 1 – Pucher, Buehler, City Cycling 2012 Figure 10.1 page 215

Fig 2 – Pucher, Buehler, City Cycling 2012 Figure 10.2 page 216

How to sensitively listen and sensibly interprete minority voices in the transport cycling debate remains an eminently valuable question to ask. Putting some structure into the reasons, purposes and ‘powers that ultimately compel us’ might be a good way to start getting some order into the transport transition discourse (without of course restricting future additions and alterations) and set out a way for ‘degendering’ urban cycling.

Prioritising and assigning a magnitude to the “influences and motivations” could move on and concentrate the internal and raging debate amongst cycle campaigners, so that practitioners and politicians can make good investment decisions. Ultimately we could create a how-to Guide for Dummies, a ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of provision needs for higher cycle share’. That would be an excellent step forward in the irksome debate about cycling and its place in transport (planning and engineering). Some voices say it can’t be done. My gut feeling (oh, how unscientific) is ‘it can’. And it ought to.

Fig 3 – McClintock, The Bicyle and City Traffic – principles and practice 1992

And not to ever forget the ‘new element’. Or as US-based Piatkowski and Marshall (2015) put it “research suggests that for a substantial population of travelers who are interested in bicycling but unwilling to cycle regularly, barriers to increasing commute cycling may be different than for individuals who already commute by bicycle at least occasionally“.

Sounds familiar? (UWAC launch)

They continue “This [interested but concerned] population is willing to change their travel behavior on the day of an event but revert to driving after the event.”

Sounds familiar? (The Big Pedal)

And “It is increasingly clear that attitudes and perceptions are important predictors of bicycling behavior. One challenge for research is to better understand the numerous factors that go into attitude formation. A challenge for practice is identifying leverage-points that can efficiently and effectively reduce perceived barriers. Affecting city-scale infrastructure or bicycle-accessibility is a long-term process, but modest improvements in perceived convenience of bicycling may be relatively simple.

Yes, I can go with those conclusions. There are many influences on our decisions, some soft, some hard, some long, some short term, some we can address ourselves, some which must be addressed by others. Some are women’s demands and needs. I am fascinated by this apparent complexity and it fairly much signposts the way for research.

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