My Anecdote Probably Means Nothing to the Data

Last week, I saw a lot of forum posts and comments about a couple of blog articles discussing the sweeping topic: “Why Women Don’t Bike.” Personally, I don’t ride my bike more often for two reasons: (1) Will doesn’t have a bike, so if we’re going out together, we usually walk to transit or just walk; (2) I am simply not confident riding at night, so if I don’t know how late I will be or if I do know I’ll be out late, I don’t ride. It’s much easier to take the bus both directions than it is to either secure my bike over night and go back for it or to deal with getting my bike onto the bus rack (or, god forbid, up to an L platform) and then home from the bus stop after dark.

Here’s what other people on the internet think:

I’m sure that it is a combination of many things, including the much derided “fashion” argument against biking (how do you bike when you have to wear heels at work? how do you bike when the helmet makes your hair look bad? do I have to wear something under my skirt–which looks weird–so I’m not flashing strangers?). I think that for the most part, the reasons (including fashion) apply to both men and women to explain why any given individual doesn’t choose a bike more for short trips.

Nevertheless, I find Elly Blue’s economics argument compelling. Much of the work done in my field focuses on the disparate impact the same situations have on people when you control for their income levels. Yes, the courthouse at 26th and California is a pain to get to, for everyone. But when you own a reliable car (or a spare one, so your spouse can still get to work) and can pay the fee to park at the private lot next door, it’s a minor inconvenience at best. When you don’t have the luxury to take time off from your job (at all because it’s a minimum-wage-hourly job), when you have to take three different bus routes (on the routes that don’t get the shiny new buses assigned to them), and when you couldn’t get a licensed cab to pick you up (much less afford the fare), it’s a major obstacle.

I take that as the essence of Blue’s argument. Yes, a lack of biking infrastructure makes cycling hard for everyone. Yes, the need to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work influences everyone’s decision whether or not to ride that day. Yes, the start-up costs to biking are a hurdle for everyone. But, when household chores fall more to women than men, when childcare duties fall more to women than men, when women are lower-paid with a higher expectation to have “done” hair and wear professional clothing that is more restrictive of movement, then those barriers affect them disproportionally.

Me, I think I just need better lights. And maybe at least one light colored jacket.


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