The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

D.C. Third in Percentage of Women Bike Commuters

Posted by thearrow on March 31, 2011

Bravo D.C.! Now you can understand why I’m raving about biking to work. Better said, I’m the one who now understands why I’m doing this. I’m just lucky to live here.

I found the info at http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/9885/women-how-comfortable-do-you-feel-biking/. The national bike map below is the work of Kory Northrop, a master’s student in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Oregon. Hats off, Kory! Great job.

As Tanya Snyder wrote on the DC Streets Blog,

“The male-female ratio is no trivial factoid. Women are considered an “indicator species” for cycling. When the conditions are right, female cyclists multiply. When urban biking feels like a game of Pole Position, the ladies tend to find other modes.”

However, going back to the Greater Greater Washington piece, I found these impressions of other women bikers worrisome:

“Basically, drivers seem to be more deferential to people riding bikes if they’re women, riding upright, and wearing street clothes.”

First, I’m not comfortable in street clothes on the bike and, with 13 miles each way, you can forget about me looking feminine. I look like the road warrior I need to be. Riding upright means you’re not on a road bike, so you’re perceived as less competitive than the boys, but I’m okay with deference to women bikers because they seem more fragile.

But not so fragile as to put themselves at risk, as indicated in this other biker’s impressions:

Dottie, a Chicago cyclist, “also observed that an important element for getting this deference is either not wearing a helmet or wearing a brightly colored feminine-looking helmet with hearts or flowers.”

Say whaaat? So, by doing something that puts them at risk of brain damage–not wearing a helmet–women become safer because drivers will protect them? Now that’s the kind of fragility no woman should try for.

Otherwise, I have no problem with flowers on the helmet or some other quirky, fun way to stand out. I just prefer my “don’t f*** with me” face I mentioned here when in traffic, even though I gave up on biking on Connecticut Avenue a long time ago for the simple reason that I’d rather not die of a heart attack at my age :).

Later edit: In response to Dottie’s concern that I misrepresented what she wrote, let me be clear:

I know she didn’t say that not wearing a helmet makes women safer. I only said that her impression was that drivers seem to have more deference to women if they don’t wear a helmet. So it wasn’t her blog post I had a problem with (absolutely not!), but this twisted attitude towards women bikers that seems to encourage unsafe practices.

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2 Responses to “D.C. Third in Percentage of Women Bike Commuters”

  1. Dottie said

    Interesting article, but it majorly misquotes me. I never said that not wearing a helmet makes women safer. I encourage you to re-read my original post.

  2. thearrow said

    Hi Dottie,

    Thanks for stopping by. I made a later edit to the post to respond to your concern. I figured it would be better to clarify the misunderstanding in the post rather than in a comment that might not get read. So, again, my frustration was with drivers’ attitude, which you observed but not encouraged or endorsed.

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