How cycling can unlock an unlikely road to gender and social inclusivity
By Rachel Teng
At the 2022 Singapore International Transport Congress and Exhibition, cycling ambassador Marianne Weinreich shared why cycling paves the road to social inclusion, liveability, and sustainability in every city.
A cargo bike for women, who often cycle with children or groceries. Image: Canva.
What does cycling have to do with the liveability and gender inclusivity of a city? The answer: everything.
Women and men experience a city vastly differently, according to cycling ambassador Marianne Weinreich, chairwoman and co-founder of the Cycling Embassy of Denmark. They are more averse to risk, have different travelling patterns, and use public transport more frequently than men.
At the 2022 Singapore International Transport Congress and Exhibition, Weinreich shared how these differences have yet to be catered for, and how cities can begin paving the road for cyclists – and in turn, for women.
It is common knowledge that public transport is leaps and bounds ahead of private transport when it comes to carbon emissions. Pedal power, in particular, is the only mode of public transport that leaves virtually a non-existent carbon footprint. Amid the global race to fulfill climate commitments, every city planner has a greater imperative than ever to nudge their people off driving roads and onto cycling paths.
Women, in particular, can play as a “species indicator” for how cycling-friendly a city is. “When it comes to cycling, women have a much higher requirement for safe cycling infrastructure in order to see cycling as a viable transport option – and that is not catered for in all places,” said Weinreich.
These gender disparities boil down to fundamental differences in gender roles and risk aversion levels, pointed out Weinreich. Namely, women are often the primary caretakers of their families and perform 76.2 per cent of the total hours of unpaid care work – more than three times as much as men. In Asia-Pacific, this rises to 80 per cent, according to a 2018 report by the International Labour Organization.
This affects the patterns and frequencies of their travelling behaviours, highlighted Weinreich. Women are more likely to commute in “trip chains” – running multiple shorter trips consecutively to run errands such as shopping for groceries and dropping off children or other family members. Men, on the other hand, generally take longer trips, but only to and from work.
“Unfortunately, mens’ trip types are what we are mostly planning for,” pointed out Weinreich. Currently, over 80 per cent of transport planners in the EU are, themselves, men. Weinreich calls for more gender diversity in transport management so that the transportation needs of women, who are 21 per cent more likely to use public transport, can be met.
“Independently across cities like Singapore, Copenhagen, and Helsinki, we have noted that women all over the world have developed strategies for walking, cycling, and taking public transport safely,” said Weinreich.
This includes pretending to be on the phone or wearing big jackets to avoid potential harassers, and generally being worried for their personal safety. “This is something we need to be very much aware of when we are asking women to walk or cycle,” added Weinreich.
To normalise cycling, transport planners have to make it safe and easy to cycle from anywhere to everywhere, for anyone, said Weinreich.
Among many others, Weinreich listed five key factors that make a city conducive for cycling. The first is having different types of bikes that cater to different types of people and their purposes. This includes bikes with low entrances for women who might be in a skirt and heels, or cargo bikes for those who are transporting goods or pillioning their kids.
Second is a smooth “flow” for cyclists. “Having to stop for an intersection is one of the most annoying things as a cyclist because you have to use your own energy to get moving again. So creating ‘flow’ is something that makes it more attractive to cycle in the city,” said Weinreich. In Copenhagen, Denmark, various municipalities have come together to create a Cycle Superhighways network that gives cyclists direct, uninterrupted, and safe commute access around the city.
Third is having bike-friendly designs around the city. Small design features such as foot rests at traffic light stops or tilted garbage bins for cyclists – who may drink their morning coffees while riding – can make a huge difference, said Weinreich.
“Every bicycle ride ends with a parked bicycle,” reminded Weinreich, which brought her to the fourth requirement. Cities need to cater for bicycle parking, especially in areas where bicycles are likely to be parked for longer periods of time, he said. This includes locations near other public transport options, with bigger facilities that can ensure that bikes are safe and secure are needed.
“Connecting cycling and public transport is a match made in heaven, because then you cater for both the shorter and longer trips,” said Weinreich. In cities like Copenhagen, people are allowed to bring their bicycles into trains – a policy that caused a 10 per cent increase in public transport usage when it was first implemented.
Finally, there is a need to address the negative perception some people may have about cycling. In cities where it is not safe to cycle, even the word “cyclist” can trigger some negative feelings among some people, said Weinreich.
In cities like Singapore, there might exist a strong perceived correlation between affluence and car-driving. “We have a global car industry that spends billions of dollars telling us that we cannot live without a car. We need to show people that you don’t need to drive a car around the city to have a fantastic life,” Weinreich told Govinsider.
To counter this, we need role models of different archetypes and backgrounds to show that many different people can actually enjoy cycling. “A city where the pregnant woman, the parent, the child, and the businessman can all have a life on a bicycle, that’s what I call a liveable city,” said Weinreich.