Cycling Rates Low Unless Women Are Riding + 30 Case Studies on Countermeasures for Safety of Those Walking

By Kea Wilson, , Streetsblog

Around the world, cities that do the best job of catering to the needs of women cyclists also have the highest level of cycling overall, a new study finds — and the U.S. has among the lowest share of female-identified riders on the planet.

In a comprehensive analysis of travel surveys from 11 countries across the globe, a team of international researchers found that the United States ranked second-to-last for both cycling mode share overall, and for cycling mode share specifically among women-identified riders. Americans of all genders travel by bike for just 1.1 percent of trips, and American women choose the two-wheeled option for just 0.6 percent of theirs — numbers that pale in comparison to top-ranking country the Netherlands, where women take 28.2 percent of their trips by bike.

But the Dutch aren’t the only ones whose success at getting women in the saddle is correlated with high cycling rates overall. The researchers noted “a strong positive association between the level of cycling and women’s representation among cyclists,” adding that “in almost all geographies with cycling mode share greater than 7 percent [of all trips,] women made as many cycle trips as men, and sometimes even greater.”

Put another way: when communities make transportation choices that successfully encourage women to ride, everyone comes out to join them. And when they don’t, most folks stick to driving.

That may be a surprising finding to those who think of “bicycle advocacy” as a gender-neutral term that’s largely synonymous with “protecting people on bikes from traffic violence.”

But throughout the report, the researchers referenced the many ways that women’s unique transportation needs shape their experience on two wheels — and not just their need for safety from drivers. Women are not only less likely to ride on dangerous roads with little protected infrastructure than their male counterparts, but that they take shorter trips by bike and travel more often for reasons unrelated to a traditional work commute, like running household errands.

That may be because women tend to do a disproportionate share of household labor, which makes them more likely to “trip-chain” regardless of how they get around. A caregiver, for instance, who has to not only make it to work, but to pick up the kids from school, run to the grocery store, and check on an elderly relative all in a single trip will have fundamentally different needs of her local transportation network than someone whose only regular household responsibility is making it to the office and back.

(The authors did not explore the travel needs of gender nonbinary people, who are typically not included in city and national travel surveys, which is a problem.)

That might help explain why three cities in Japan — Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo — had the highest proportion of cycle trips made by women, despite the fact that the country has vanishingly little protected bike infrastructure besides sidewalks shared with pedestrians, and nearly three times the rate of fatal crashes per 100,000 kilometers biked than the Netherlands. (Of course, they still have have about half the fatality rate as the U.S.) Some advocates have speculated that’s because an estimated 70 percent of Japanese women leave the workforce after they have their first child, often taking on the larger share of the household labor — and thanks to Japan’s compact “15-minute city”-style community design, those duties, which have become unusually gendered in the country, are also unusually convenient to complete by bike.

Presumably, Japan’s share of women cyclists could be even higher if the country also had protected bike lanes — something for which many cyclists in the country have long advocated.

Interestingly, the researchers didn’t find a similar association between high cycling levels overall and high cycling levels among all age groups. Several of the cities the researchers examined had relatively few people on bikes, but a lot of children scooting around on training wheels — something they noted “can be a barrier to its consideration as a mainstream transport mode” if the bicycle comes to be too heavily regarded as nothing more than a child’s plaything.

Of course, most U.S. cities don’t have to worry about bikes becoming over-identified with little kids — because parents won’t dare let their children ride on our dangerous roads. Of the four American cities that the researchers ranked — Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, and Seattle — none had a greater than 0.76 percent cycling mode share for riders under 15 years old, or less than a third of the proportion of bike trips taken by Finnish children, who rode the most often.

Meanwhile, the U.S. city with the highest share of women riders, New York City, still had a 66-percent male ridership. There are are nearly 400,000 more women than men in the Big Apple.

The researchers behind the paper were careful to note that their data didn’t speak to all the reasons why people of various identity groups might ride (or not ride) on city streets. A truly intersectional study, they said, would analyze how “disability, ethnicity, income levels” and other factors impact the lived experience of people on bikes — something that’s hard to analyze at a global scale, because communities around the world so rarely collect much cycling data at all, much less good data that provides a detailed picture of who rides and why.

But the study may validate the old truism that the presence of diverse women on bikes is the single best indicator of a healthy cycling ecosystem — and that it’s past time that U.S. communities start centering the unique needs of marginalized people when they make our transportation decisions.


Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian

The Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) program helps State and local programs systemically apply countermeasures. The STEP program features over 30 case studies that highlight how agencies have implemented the “spectacular seven” countermeasures, and including in concert with a comprehensive plan or program like a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (PSAP), , Complete Streets approach, or Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) pedestrian program.

The Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in Florida worked with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to complete a series of PSAPs to set the stage for the development of various multimodal and Complete Streets projects. The Complete Streets Master Plan included a prioritized list of projects that identified areas for transportation and safety improvements.

Broward MPO Complete Streets Master Plan, showing locations of proposed and programmed projects, bundle areas, and existing bicycle facilities.

Excerpt of bundle area and corridor recommendations from the Complete Streets Master Plan. (Credit: Broward MPO)

Broward MPO’s focus on pedestrian safety has improved project implementation in several ways. Similar to a roadway safety audit, the inclusion of walking audits allowed FDOT engineers and community leaders to build a common dialogue on safety needs and ultimately project scope. Second, the MPO served in a guidance and technical resources role to municipalities as they developed resolutions in support of projects within the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Finally, the MPO facilitated a review of project recommendations with FDOT and municipalities to update project scopes, reprogram projects, and consider projects for rapid implementation. These coordinated efforts have led to the inclusion of eight high priority projects from the Complete Streets Master Plan in the TIP.

The Ohio DOT created a Pedestrian Safety Improvement Program to implement low and medium-cost countermeasures along arterials and collectors. ODOT Worked with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission to review its roadway network for high-risk locations and used HSIP funds to upgrade 100 crossing locations with improvements like high-visibility crosswalks, Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacons, and pedestrian signal head countdown timers.

If you would like to learn how your agency can put together a comprehensive plan or safety program to improve pedestrian safety with STEP, contact Becky Crowe with FHWA’s Office of Safety or Peter Eun with the FHWA Resource Center.


The Maryland Department of Planning and Smart Growth Network held a webinar highlighting how walkability studies are conducted and how local planners can work with neighborhoods, business groups, and citizens to complete these studies. The event featured a discussion about how to encourage people to walk, which emphasized safety and comfort in addition to having a reason to walk. A recording of this webinar is now available online.

Updated Website Offers New Value Capture Tools

Have you ever wanted to pursue a Value Capture (VC) technique on an upcoming project but needed more information to make an informed recommendation or didn’t know where to start? The VC website has been updated with several new pages and features that help agencies make better decisions on which VC techniques may serve their needs best and how to implement them.

A series of new VC primers can assist practitioners understand and navigate the different aspects of implementing VC strategies in transportation projects. These in-depth documents are based on interviews, case studies, and lessons learned from practicing agencies. Each one introduces a VC concept and discusses how it can provide funding to fill a gap to help maintain and improve transportation infrastructure.

The website also features a case study page that provides real-world examples of VC techniques in action. The cases include project details, key regulatory characteristics, and information on funding and financing, as well as chief areas of collaboration and challenges among stakeholders.

In addition, a section of frequently asked questions provides a document for each VC technique outlining questions and answers that provide background, differences and similarities to other VC techniques, advantages and disadvantages, and more.Visit the updated site to learn more about the techniques agencies are using across the country to capture some of the additional value created by transportation infrastructure projects. To learn more about any of the Value Capture techniques, please contact Thay Bishop or Stefan Natzke, VC team co-leads.