City hopes protected bike lanes will help close cycling gender gap

The city is hoping to close the cycling gender gap with the installation of more protected bike lanes. Above, a woman uses a Citi Bike along Sixth Avenue in Manhattan  on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016.
The city is hoping to close the cycling gender gap with the installation of more protected bike lanes. Above, a woman uses a Citi Bike along Sixth Avenue in Manhattan on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

New York City is banking on protected bike lanes to help close its long-standing gender gap in cycling ridership.

Polly Trottenberg, the city Department of Transportation commissioner, will be leading a Citi Bike ride and ribbon-cutting up the city’s newest protected lane on Sixth Avenue to celebrate its installment.

She’ll be riding on Wednesday morning with other women — city officials and advocates — in the middle of the bike share’s Women’s Bike Month to advocate for more women to take to two wheels on city streets.

“Unfortunately, there still remains a pretty big gender gap between men and women cycling in New York,” Trottenberg said, who will lead the Sixth Avenue ride from Washington Place to 18th Street.

“We’re thrilled with (Citi Bike’s) progress … we’re going to continue to look for ways to up the game. The goal is a system that works well for men and women and people of all ages.”

About 76% of all Citi Bike users in the past four months were men, according to bike share data. Those numbers remained largely in line with figures from previous years—even as Citi Bike celebrates its latest expansion that will bring 2,000 new bikes and 139 new stations in Brownstone Brooklyn and uptown Manhattan by the end of the year.

Trottenberg said the bike share’s expansion and the administration’s commitment to building protected bike lanes—the department is building 18 miles of protected lanes this year, a city record—will work in harmony to close the gender gap.

She referenced recent studies over the past few years from Hunter College and the NYU Rudin Center, which illustrated where and when women ride in the city.

A Rudin Center report out last year found that women are more likely to ride in areas that are connected to bike lanes or greenways, separated from traffic. They also ride on more residential streets, like those of Brooklyn’s, with lower traffic volumes and on streets that tend to have fewer cyclist injuries, when compared to trips taken by men.

“You can really tell the health of a bike network through the number of women you see riding,” said Caroline Samponaro, deputy director at Transportation Alternatives, who pointed out that European countries with more robust bike infrastructure have more women users. “We have to double down and build out the network of protected, self-enforcing lanes.”

As the city’s Vision Zero struggles to steadily reduce cycling deaths—there’s been an uptick in deaths in 2016— officials and advocates said its important to close that gender divide with more protected lanes, but also by better enforcing unprotected bike lanes.

“A bike lane is not helpful if it’s blocked by a truck or a car,” said Sarah Kaufman, assistant director at the Rudin Center. “Enforcement is one thing that the city can do better.”

Citi Bike’s operators, Motivate, to its end, is running a “#womenwhobike” campaign through October to draw more women riders. It’s launched a resource web page with tips and encouragement for women to get starting biking; featured women Citi Bike riders on its blog and is offering free Citi Bike day passes for the month.

“It’s about starting conversations with women who ride so people feel, more comfortable and find community,” said Dani Simons, Motivate’s communications director, “and to really create these opportunities for women to connect with each other.”

Fun Fact: Sixth Avenue has a bit of a bike lane history. Former Mayor Ed Koch built a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue in 1980, along the exact same route of Wednesday’s ride. Koch was inspired by the large number of cyclists he saw in China during a recent trip to the country, according to a New York Times article at the time. It was the city’s first protected bike lane, but it was short-lived. Koch ripped the lane out several months later, after mounting criticisms from drivers as well as then-Governor Hugh Carey, who welcomed the end of what Carey described as Koch’s bike “fetish.”