Will London’s cycling gender gap close because of ‘superhighways’?

Will London’s cycling gender gap close because of ‘superhighways’?

A recent observation that London’s dedicated cycling lanes – its “cycle superhighways” – and other cycling infrastructure are dominated by men and have therefore failed to “normalise” cycling in London produced sustained Twitter derision of a familiar kind. With this in mind, it’s worth returning to the findings of surveys of the amount of cycling taking place in London, which types of people are doing it and whether the demographic picture is changing.

One source is the annual Travel in London survey, conducted by Transport for London (TfL). The results of this go into TfL’s vast annual Travel in London reports. The latest of these, produced at the end of last year, reports that cycling continues to account for only 2% of entire “trips” and individual “journey stages” in London, as it has since 2005 (see pages 28 and 29). However, it also reports an 8.8% increase in the use of bicycles for some parts of excursions around London in 2016 compared with the previous year (page 56) – a significant rise, albeit from a very low level. TfL says that, as you would expect, cycling by women accounts for part of that rise.

So, the amount of cycling done by women in London has undoubtedly been increasing. But so has that of men. What is the balance of cycling propensity between the sexes and has that been changing of late, as superhighways and other cycling infrastructure have been installed?

Market research company Future Thinking has been producing regular intelligence on the subject for TfL based on representative samples of Londoners. Its most recent Attitudes to Cycling report, published last November, provides insights into the gender mix of London’s cyclist population over time. The tables below show the percentages of men and women from the Londoners interviewed – over 1,000 in each case – who’ve defined themselves as regular cyclists (purple), occasional cyclists (green) or non-cyclists (pink) since 2011.

Evidently, the percentage of women who cycle has remained consistently lower than that of men. The different levels themselves have remained pretty consistent too and therefore so have the percentages of male and female Londoners who cycle compared with each other. This has continued to be the case during the last three years since the autumn of 2015, during which the new infrastructure has been coming into use. The split for the most recent survey was 63% male, 37% female (second column of graph below).

The November 2017 report also explores the respective use of male and female cyclists of different forms of the new infrastructure. There’s a section devoted to “current and intended use of cycle superhighways”, which pulls together survey figures produced in September 2016 and March 2017 as well as for November 2017. These show the percentages of men and of women who said they had used one of the superhighways and the percentages who said they intended to use one during the coming year. Well over 1,000 Londoners gave replies for this part of each of the three surveys.

The graphs representing these figures are, unlike those above, too small in the report for me to reproduce satisfactorily here. But for cyclist men, the percentages in the three surveys who said they had used a superhighway were, respectively, 20%, 21% and 23%. For women they were 12%, 8% and 12%. The averages of those two sets of three figures – 21.3% for men and 10.7% for women – suggest than men have been twice as likely as women to use London’s cycle superhighways so far. That is a larger difference than between the comparative levels of male and female cyclists in London in general.

The answers to the question about intending to use superhighways in the near future produced a smaller gender gap, however. In the cases of both men and women, the percentages went up over the course of a year or so: for men, from 32% in September 2016, to 31% in March 2017, to 34% in the most recent November 2017 survey; for women, from 17% to 18% to 22% respectively. Here, the average difference between male and female respondents over the period was smaller: 32.3% for men compared with 19% for women.

The latter therefore looks fairly encouraging in terms of women having a larger presence among cycle superhighway users in the future than they appear to do currently. So do responses to another survey question, which asked about cycle superhighway use in the month prior to being asked about it. Again, answers to the same question when asked in September 2016 and March 2017 are also included in the report. The figures for men were 56%, 54% and 62%. The figures for women were 40%, 63% – higher in this case than that for men – and 59%.

Except for the September 2016 figures, then, the gap between men and women pretty much disappears for these answers. That said, Future Thinking cautions that the “base” for this part of the surveys – the number of people who responded to the question – was low (the highest number of respondents was 262). Also, the data can’t tell us anything about whether the respondents, male or female, enjoyed their cycle superhighway experiences.

What is it reasonable to conclude from all these data? Clearly, the 2:1 ratio of men to women who said they have used a cycle superhighway presents a challenge to the proposition of some cycling activists that women in particular would be attracted to segregated lanes in the belief that they provide greater safety. Were that so, we might expect a far higher percentage of women using them and a higher percentage doing so than that of women cyclists in London in general compared with men, rather than a lower one.

On the other hand, the findings that women have characterised themselves as being relatively more likely to use superhighways in the near future than they have used them so far, along with those low base figures on use during the month before being asked about it, might signify that the balance between men and women who use cycle superhighways will eventually become more even. Nonetheless, if “normalised” means as many women as men using its cycle superhighways, or something close to it, London still has quite a way to go.

The November 2017 Attitudes to Cycling report is not currently available online. TfL are looking into why that is. 


Categories: Analysis


  1. […] Perspectives such as Rutter’s need to become part of a much wider discussion about cycling in the capital. She argues in her piece (and also on Twitter), that some adjustments to current infrastructure need to be made, but stresses that the most important thing is for cyclists to recognise that “not everyone is a mad racer”. Among the many claims made around the time Boris Johnson and his somewhat insistent cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan launched their cycling vision back in 2013 was that protected lanes would encourage more women to take to two wheels because they would feel safer. However, evidence gathered for Transport for London hasn’t yet borne this out. […]

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