Why poor infrastructure keeps women from cycling

A new report from the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation and Ryerson University suggests that one of the best ways to get more Torontonians cycling is to focus on women.

1 of 3 GTA cyclists are female, but better infrastructure could boost that, biking group says

Cycling rates among women vary depending on where you are, said Nancy Smith Lea. In some parts of downtown Toronto, upwards of 50 per cent of cyclists are female. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

One of the best ways to get more Torontonians cycling is to make it safer and focus on women, a new report from the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation and Ryerson University finds.

Only one in 3 cyclists in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton are female. It's a statistic that's in keeping with other North American cities.

But there's huge potential to change that by making it safer, said Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation.

"[Some] studies have shown that women are more safety conscious and risk averse than men," she said in an interview on CBC's Metro Morning.

"The safer it is, the more women will cycle."

Smith Lea cited an Australian study that found that women face more aggression in traffic than men.

Safety, however, isn't the only factor keeping women out of cycling.

The safer it is, the more women will cycle.- Nancy Smith Lea

Gendered divisions of labour leave more women making multiple short trips every day as they take care of grocery shopping and pick up kids. Smith Lea said.

Better infrastructure

Despite that, the report found that more than half of the trips women take every day could potentially be cycled.

What's needed, said Smith Lea, is safer cycling infrastructure.

"That means we need more bike lanes, slower speeds and fewer cars on the road," she said.

Other findings from the report include:

  • Of the 14 million trips made in the GTA and Hamilton every day, six per cent are walked or cycled. One third of those trips could be done by bicycle.
  • Only about one per cent of school or work-related trips made by 11- to 16-year-olds are cycled. The study found that 27 per cent of those trips could happen on a bike.
  • About 20 per cent of all trips to or from GO transit stations could potentially be cycled.