Cathy DeLuca’s research sprung from personal curiosity. A long-time transportation cyclist and bicycle advocate, she was surprised to learn that her local bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee lacked a single female representative. Is my county unique, she wondered, or are women equally underrepresented in other communities in California? Then a graduate student at San Jose State University, she decided to find out.
DeLuca’s report — “An Examination of Women’s Representation and Participation in Bicycle Advisory Committees in California” — started buzzing within advocacy circles earlier this year, putting data behind the suspicion that not nearly enough women are at the table when decisions about bike/ped planning take place.
Last week, Deluca’s study was published by the Mineta Transportation Institute, but, before her study spread to a national audience, she shared some of her insights with advocates at the League and Alliance for Biking & Walking.
What’s your background in bicycling?
On a personal level, I’ve been riding my bike for transportation for about 10 years. On a professional level, I have a master’s degree in urban planning, with a specialization in transportation planning. As a part of this specialization, I’ve focused on bicycling planning through two internships. In my internship at the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, I worked with their bike coordinator to develop a bike route signage system for the county. In my internship with the City of San Jose’s bike/ped coordinator, I researched bicycle parking programs.
What inspired you to take this on as a research topic?
I’m a woman who bicycles, and I live in a community where a lot of women ride bikes. When I learned that our 11-member county-level bicycle advisory committee did not have one female member, I was shocked. I was then interested in knowing whether this lack of women members was common in other cities and counties.
Why is research into women’s cycling issues important?
When we look at bicycling in Germany and the Netherlands, where women bicycle at the same rate as men, we can see that there is no intrinsic reason why women would bicycle less than men. So the disparity in the US is likely a social/cultural phenomenon based on a variety of factors. Without women helping to identify these factors, it is hard to imagine that the conditions to make biking more women-friendly will come about.
What surprised you most as you were compiling your data and conducting interviews?
When interviewing the women committee members, I was surprised that so few had ever thought about the gender composition of their committees, especially the women who were the sole female member.
What were the most-compelling results from your research?
- Women are underrepresented on bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committees in California. While they represent one-half of the state’s general population, they only make up 19% of the members on bicycle advisory committees in the state and 27% of the members on bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees.
- A large percentage of women in the California bicycle community know about these committees, which is a great starting place for recruiting women to become involved.
What are the biggest take-aways, in your opinion, for advocates?
Advocates can have a substantial impact on the gender composition of bike committees. Many local advocacy groups are already helping advertise bike committee openings to their membership. If these groups made a targeted effort to encourage their female members to seek committee membership, I think we’d start to see an increase in the number of women serving on bike committees.
On a more basic level, advocates can do a great deal to help increase the number of women on bicycles. If advocates are aware that fewer women than men bike, and they understand the reasons why (safety concerns, family obligations, etc.), they can develop effective programs and campaigns to target women (family rides, women-only rides, bike skills training for women, bike buddies, etc.).
What are your top recommendations in getting more women involved in these political bodies — and get more women out on bikes in general.
To get more women to participate in the political process surrounding bicycling, I think the most effective action would be for governments/agencies to directly reach out to women when recruiting for open committee positions. Advocates can also help by emphasizing to their membership that bike committees are in need of women members.
In terms of getting more women to ride, I believe the two most important strategies are:
- Encouragement, support, and bicycle education targeted at women.
- An increase in the number bike lanes, including buffered lanes. The first is less expensive and therefore much easier to implement, but I believe that the second would have a much larger impact on the numbers of women riding.
Has doing this study inspired you to get more involved with bike/ped issues?
I was already committed to bike/ped issues before I did the study, but the study has helped solidify my interest in getting more women involved in bicycling. Bicycling is so beneficial to our communities, our planet, and our personal health and happiness – that’s something women should have a chance to be a part of!
Have you had a positive response to to your study?
It’s been amazing how interested people have been in my study. For example, I distributed the online survey to 16 bike groups, but their individual members spread it in a way that I never expected. In the end, women from over 150 California cities took my survey!
The response to my results has been really widespread as well. The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals mentioned my study in their recent webinar on Women and Bicycling, and several bicycle advocacy groups and transportation research groups have asked to post the study on their websites. Even more than that, I’ve been thrilled at how interested both male and female bicycle professionals and advocates have been in this topic. That gives me great hope that someday soon we’ll all get to experience the joys of biking, no matter our gender!
Click here to read DeLuca’s full report.
Thanks to Lisa Seyfried, former intern at the Alliance for Biking & Walking, for her help with this blog post!
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.