A question about London’s cycle lanes: ‘where are the women’?

by Dave Hill

Video footage taken by active travel campaigner @HalHaines last week has inspired a debate about the effectiveness of London’s new cycle lanes. He was making a point about traffic signals on Cycle Superhighway 3 at Parliament Square, but @Cyclemonitor responded to the footage with a different one, asking “Where are the women?” He or she argued that “videos like this tell us that cycle infrastructure in London fails to normalise cycling”.

There followed a thread of a familiar kind about what conclusions can and cannot be drawn from 35 seconds of evidence from a single junction at a particular time of day. But nothing in it really addressed @Cyclemonitor’s basic point, which is a very important one.

When Boris Johnson published his Vision for Cycling in 2013, one of its various good objectives was to increase the variety of Londoners who get around by bicycle. Johnson wrote:

However, five years on, London’s cyclist population does appear to be as disproportionately white, male and drawn from its most affluent social strata as ever – a point encouragingly recognised by Sadiq Khan’s cycling and walking commissioner Will Norman soon after he took up his post, yet often met with ferocious displays of denial by some of the capital’s more fundamentalist cycling activists.

The belief of such activists that dedicated road infrastructure, in particular the building of segregated cycle lanes, will, all by itself, attract more women and more people who are not young, affluent or white to cycling, seems as unshakeable as it is as yet unproven. Perhaps, given more time, the range of Londoners who cycle will indeed start to broaden as a result of cycle lanes. But as things stand such an effect is not apparent.

The longer things stay that way, the stronger will become the case that encouraging the “truly mass participation” in cycling to which Johnson aspired will require a far more cultural and flexible policy approach than simply re-designing road layouts can achieve.

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