Study: Why Women Are Afraid to Ride Bikes in the City

Way fewer women than men ride bikes in cities. Now researchers say they think they know why.

It’s a fact: American women, by a large margin, are way, way less likely than men to ride bikes in cities; some reports put the ratio at one woman for every three guys on a bike. That’s huge. The question is why. Although many have bickered (albeit intelligently!) over what’s to blame, new research out of Ohio State University found that it pretty much boils down to one thing: safety.

To arrive at the conclusion, researchers studied commute behavior on the university’s campus using a sample of about 2,000 people, including faculty and undergrads. Here are the findings: Of off-campus residents, 73 percent commuted car, with women more likely to drive than men. Nearly 8 percent of the participants indicated biking as their chosen mode of transportation (just over 2 percent of commuters in Philly do), with 13 percent of men indicating a bicycle-commute preference compared to 6 percent of women.

Among the reasons people gave for why they didn’t commute on bikes was that they lived too far from the university and had too much to carry. Okay, fair enough. But when it came to safety, women—by a margin of 43 percent to 28 percent, comparing women to men—pegged it as a major concern, citing “nearby car traffic” as a reason to opt for four wheels. Likewise, a lack of bike lanes ranked highly as a worry among women, with 37 percent citing it as a consideration as opposed to 30 percent of men.

Do you buy it? Not everybody does. But I think what we can all agree on, at least, is that infrastructure—i.e. adequate bike lanes—is just as important as culture—i.e. everybody following the same rules, being courteous and respectful to all who use the road—in fostering safety in the streets. And there’s nothing gender-specific about that.