For Fear of Safety, Women Avoid Riding in NYC

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by David Schloss on Jul 08, 2011 at 5:58 AM

While I’m based due north of New York City, I do a fair share of riding in the Big Apple. (Each weekend while riders make a mass exodus to the Runcible Spoon, three blocks from my house, often time I’ll lead rides in the reverse direction to do some laps in Central Park.)

I’m very comfortable with urban riding, though that said there are plenty of encounters in New York City that are more terrifying than they need be. Take for example this incident that occurred on the bike path along the Hudson on a BikeHugger meetup ride.

New York, like many other metropolises, isn’t the safest place to ride, despite a few years of hard work by the office of the Mayor, the DOT and the various park agencies. Cities like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Austin and many others all have more welcoming cycling routes and drivers that are by-and-large more accustomed to interacting with cyclists. Just a decade ago in NYC there were almost no dedicated bike lanes and the most commonly-seen cyclist was a delivery guy riding the wrong way down a street while dangling a bag of fast food.

No wonder then that the New York Times has noticed this and a recent piece starts with an interview with Julie Hirschfeld, owner of beloved shop Adeline Adeline who backs up data about the dearth of female cyclists in NYC by saying “Women want to feel safe,” Naturally. But NYC isn’t the place to feel safe and as such it lags behind many cities in terms of female cyclists. Male riders in NYC outnumber female riders three-to-one, much higher than global travel stats and much higher than other U.S. cities.

Cities like Portland have been able to close this gap, the Times says, by offering clinics for women but admits that most of the gain likely comes from safer routes.

In my experience with The City, infrastructure seems to be a key issue. The Hudson River trail, one of the few spots for casual cyclists to ride, is so full of pedestrians, bikes, scooters, roller bladers that a rock in the trail can cause a Tour de France level crash. Central Park is even worse as it adds horses, time trial riders and vendors.

The solution? Just build more and more infrastructure and calm the traffic surrounding it. A few years of safe riding being the norm and people will flock, regardless of their gender.

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