Last weekend, I was hanging out with a group of friends at the annual Nordic Day celebration in Ballard. At some point the conversation turned to an article I was working on for Crosscut about the impact bike share programs are having on bicyclist demographics in cities where they’ve been implemented and what that could mean for Seattle once our own bike share program launches this fall. In short, bike share membership has much less gender imbalance than the national gender split among bicyclists and it’s helping increase the number of women on bikes.
During the course of this conversation, my friend’s cousin Lexi asked, “why does gender equality matter for bikes?” I was a little caught off guard by her question and fumbled a bit before landing on a two-fold answer. If your ultimate goal as an advocate is to get as many people riding bikes as possible, and a large percentage of half of your potential riders are uninterested in doing so for whatever reasons, then you’re failing at your job. And, as importantly, men (and predominantly white, relatively-affluent men) have been at the helm of the US bike industry, bike advocacy world, infrastructure planning world, etc, for as long as those things have existed and it’s only gotten us so far in terms of increasing ridership. Nationwide, bike commuting is still only about 1 percent of the total transportation mode share. A diversity of voices and participation–not only from women, but from people of color and different economic backgrounds as well–in the industry, advocacy, planning is likely to only help things improve on the whole.
Lexi’s question was a valuable reminder of the assumptions on which I operate. In this case, the assumption that equality is something universally good that doesn’t need explanation. I think most people, or at least a lot of people, believe that equality is a good thing to strive for, but that doesn’t mean it’s an undisputed fact that doesn’t require explanation or evidence. I spend a lot of time in the self-selected feedback chamber of Twitter and with friends and colleagues who more often than not agree with my point of view. That there are lots of people who agree with me, however, does not make something gospel truth and I need to be careful not to make problematic assumptions in my writing.
So with all that said, go read my piece for Crosscut, “Why bike sharing could get more women riding in Seattle bicycle.”