Thursday 26 May 2016

Cycling and Gender part 3 - Are we missing the point?

Its been a long time since I went there. Oh, and there too. Although I've swiped past this en route elsewhere.

The thingy with Goodwill the other day has sparked some discussion on Twitter, so now seems like not a bad time to go back and lay out the rest of my musings on this. I've always meant to come back to this topic because I think there are some  obvious things we can conclude from the numbers if we just turn them around a bit.

Briefly (as discussed previously) there's a gender disparity across most of the UK in cycling - you don't see it so much in Cambridge but you certainly see it elsewhere. The question often put is whether we can change that, and how?

I've come across various stats for bike riding by men and women in Britain. They're of a lot more varied than you might imagine - but lets stick with the one for bike commuting - 3.9% of men cycle to work, 1.6% of women commute by bike. I'm picking the figures for going to work because thats the every-day use of a bike that I think we can really sink our teeth into, and maybe the once or twice a month hobbyist numbers are somewhat less important for peoples every day lives. Thats a big disparity if we just compare the two - nearly two and a half times higher proportion of men cycle to work than women. Sounds statistically significant - probably is.

But there's something that really ought to be nagging at you about this (if it isn't already) - whenever you're looking at small percentages there's always tendency to over-analyze and read far too much in to things. Twice nothing is still nothing. Flip this round - we're looking at 96.1% of men and 98.4% of women not cycling - yet we're asking the minister about the 2.3% disparity rather than the over 96% of either who don't ride? This is nonsense.

We could interpret the reason for this disparity lots of different ways of course, and I'd favour an evidence based approach over being a total dick and talking about helmet hair any day of the week. But lets say we could wave a magic wand and solve it and get the same percentage of women commuting by bike - we'd still be failing, almost entirely, to get Britain cycling.

The big message from these figures oughtn't be that more men than women cycle, it ought to be that damn near no one of either sex bike commutes - both sexes are put off cycling in the UK in similar proportions. As I said in an earlier post, we're failing women ever so slightly more than we're failing men. So the elephant in the room is we're failing everyone who might want to ride a bike every day in Britain - its not about our gender, its about our almost total lack of good cycling infrastructure. 

Now we can campaign on that need for infrastructure until the cows come home, but thats still a message not always getting heard. Often whenever we start talking about the people who don't ride, and what they need, however eloquent and well researched what we say is, what politicians (local and national) hear is existing cyclists saying what WE want, not what non-cyclists would require to become cyclists and why that in turn is good for everybody. Thats something we need to address, and while there are some good ideas around I don't think we're getting there yet. But thats a topic for another day.

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