One Too Many Close Calls: Women and Bicycles

“I just had one too many close calls.”

That was what Rachel said. We were standing in a little circle, she and Bernie and I, chatting about what bikes we rode, and the big White Pine Trail ride she took last year, and all the kinds of things you tend to chat about when you find out that the people around you share your special brand of crazy.

And at some point in the conversation, she said this. How after bike commuting all through the warm season, day after day after day, she tapered down to nearly nothing by the end of the summer. The guy who waved her in front of him… then hit her rear wheel, knocked her down, and raced off. The woman who nearly hit her, braked, and then nearly hit the son who was following her.

One too many close calls.

I get it. I DID it. I rode through 110F heat (not recommended), and on windy, blustery days. I felt like I was getting away with something, leaving the girls with the sitter and riding away ALL BY MYSELF for a half-an-hour break before work.

But the day that the woman in the gray sedan cut me off pulling into the Secretary of State, when I braked and swerved and barely missed being hit… Well, I drove to work the next day. And the day after that. I had a nine-month-old at home! I don’t remember when I rode in after that, but it was much frequently than I had before.

One too many close calls.

I linked to an article over on our Facebook page a week or so ago that addresses this specifically. On a population basis, women are substantially more sensitive to the safety of the bicycling environment than men are. The presence of dedicated bicycle infrastructure – bike lanes and paths – also make a bigger difference to the numbers of women who choose to ride than the number of men who do.

An excerpt from the article:

The big question, of course, was what kept more women from biking. Men and women gave several of the same reasons for not riding, … but the biggest disparity was a safety concern regarding nearby car traffic. While 43 percent of women cited that concern as a reason they didn’t ride, only 28 percent of men said the same.

We’re just not into close calls.

As spring approaches, I’ve been eagerly anticipating getting my bike on the road again. I’ve been brainstorming ways to get more than one girl on the bike that I have now – can I rig something up on my rear rack for the preschooler? What will it feel like to carry two on this bike? Can we make it work? I’m excited to get out there, get moving, to feel the wind and the sun and listen to the spring peepers and smell the thawing earth. Like this woman in Traverse City, I’m eager to trade in the gasoline and make almonds and dark chocolate my fuel of choice.

But will I? Or will traffic make me too nervous, or actually present itself as too dangerous? If someone cuts me off with kids on the bike, will I just hang it up and start trolling the internets for houses and jobs in Portland? (We don’t really ALL have to live in Portland, do we?)

I won’t know until I try. I’ve heard mixed reviews on the forums, with many parents saying that they feel drivers give them much more space when they’re traveling with their children – and many leaning out their windows to tell them that what they’re doing is a bad idea. We don’t change the status quo by following the status quo.

But I’m like Rachel. I’m not into close calls. So… stay tuned?

Around the web on this topic:
Infrastructure to Blame for the Cycling Gender Gap

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