International Women’s Day: Mind the active travel gap

Data from multiple sources shows a glaring disparity between the numbers of men regularly cycling compared to other genders. Something needs to change.

When Sustrans published its 2018 report, Bike Life, the focus was firmly on one specific aspect of active travel – the need to create more inclusive cities for cycling. 

The organisation’s national assessment of seven key urban areas – Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Greater Manchester, and Newcastle – yielded disappointingly conclusive results. Simply put, men dominate cycle lanes and infrastructure. 

The report also pointed out that overall fewer women than men met recommended minimum levels for daily physical activity, and men were twice as likely to cycle for travel on a regular basis. Meanwhile, just 12% of women were riding a bike once a week or more, and 73% never rode bikes.

Furthermore, 30% of women in the cities Sustrans looked at did not own a bicycle but would like to, with just 27% viewing cycling safety in their city as ‘good’. Fewer than 50% considered local infrastructure to be ‘good’, and 74% believed more investment was needed. 

These numbers might be five years old, but more recent figures aren’t much different. Looking specifically at bike share systems – a crucial tool in getting more people to adopt active travel – CoMoUK’s 2021 survey found that on average 60% of users were male. 2022’s results are yet to be published.

This gender bias is supported by the UK Government’s National Travel Survey. In 2021, the most recent year data is available, for every seven cycling trips taken by women men made 24, and travelled four times the distance women did.

Cycle share firm Beryl also conducted its own member survey before Christmas, with over 3,000 responses. In this demographic, more than 67% of members are male, a little over 30% female, and less than 3% transgender or non-binary. As such, the company has now launched a new series of events, the Women’s Tour, to try and rebalance the gender gap. Details of events and tickets can be found on the firm’s Eventbrite page

‘Our data, as well as national data, shows that we need to do even more to empower women to feel safe and confident while using sustainable transport, which is why we have created the Women’s Tour,’ said Beryl Head of Marketing and Communications, Claire Sharpe.

‘By creating a pressure-free environment where women can come along, learn new skills, build confidence and access help and advice, we can start to redress the gender imbalance we are currently seeing,’ she added. ‘Getting more women out of their cars and onto sustainable transport will help further reduce road congestion, while contributing towards improving air quality and public health.’

Last month, we reported on a new Greater Manchester transport strategy that emphasises walking as the ‘natural choice’ for travel. Find out what that means.

Image: Jake Baggaley



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