19 March 2013

My Gender (Mom?) Gap in Biking

Recently, The Atlantic Cities, published an article about the gender gap in cycling. The article claims that men bike are likely to bike at a 2:1 ratio in the United States. This is shocking to me, considering that nearly every bike commuter I know is a woman. Then again, when I'm riding around town, I'm more likely to see more male riders than female riders. Why? Reading further in the article, I could relate to nearly every point it made.

For example, women are less likely to feel safe on a bike when there's a lot of traffic. I've used this fear to keep myself from riding in several areas of Denver, including Downtown. I also dislike riding through big intersections with lots of cars, but I've gotten over both fears by just riding and leaving the excuses at the door (while being more alert to traffic).

The article was based on a survey of female and male bikers at the Ohio State University. And while so many of the study's points were applicable to me, I couldn't help but think about the additional challenges - and worries - of riding with children. Now that Benny can ride with me, I'm extra reticent about riding through busy intersections or on busy streets. That limits our trips a bit, but not much. I'm also wary of riding with the bike trailer in situations like these.

I've never thought much about the walkable/bikeable community concept, other than I generally support it and I can't imagine living in a neighborhood that isn't pedestrian/bike friendly. My neighborhood is both. It's an older neighborhood, but the streets are wide, the sidewalks are adequate and there are plenty of local businesses to visit within a mile or so away. Benny's school is less than a mile away and Lila's daycare will soon be less than a half mile away - with no major streets to cross.

It hasn't been until I've started venturing outside of my neighborhood that the walkable/bikeable concept has become more important and much more applicable to my life. We live in a perfect area of Denver - close to Downtown and Uptown, close to Cherry Creek, close to Stapleton. If it weren't for the trek to the southern part of the city for meetings and the southwestern part of the city to the University of Denver, I could bike everywhere I need to go.

Yesterday, Lila and I rode to Stapleton, a new housing development near Park Hill with everything we could possibly need (it used to be the airport). We don't visit the area often, but I needed to stop by Goodwill to look for a items for a guard costume for Benny's first play. Walgreen's is on the way home, so we made a short pit stop to get passport photos for Lila. While riding in Park Hill is easy and feels safe, I couldn't help but appreciate the multitude of bike lanes throughout Stapleton. I didn't have to ride on any streets without a bike lane. When I'm riding with a trailer, I appreciate bike lanes even more.

Today I contemplated riding south to a meeting about 5.5 miles away. But, Google maps indicated that there weren't any convenient bike path to get there. I decided to drive the route first to get a feel for it. I can't imagine riding it without a lot of hesitation. While there were signs posted along the route to "Share the Road," it was busy, narrow and long lines of cars were parked on the sides. It wasn't welcoming at all. I'm not sure I can convince myself to ride that route ever, which is unfortunate because I have to travel to that particular area at least once a month.

Luckily, Denver is a relatively bike friendly city. I can get most places by riding side streets that are designated bike routes or on bike lanes. But, there is still an overarching car-centric mentality here. (For example, Benny nearly got doored on our way home from school a few weeks ago.) The city is considering installing a protected bike lane on one of the city's busiest streets, which a great step in the right direction. But, we need to change the mentality of drivers to ensure that everyone is comfortable on the road, whether on two feet, two (or three) wheels or four wheels. After today's experiment, I realize that the city also needs to invest in more bike lanes running north/south (there are plenty east/west) and definitely more bike trails. We don't have access to any bike trails, unless we want to ride several miles out of the way.

What keeps you from riding? Have you ever gotten over a fear of not being safe while riding?

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