Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why don't women cycle?

As members of the ReDiscover team we have, of course, become acutely aware of the cyclists we see on the roads of Ahmedabad. I feel a sense of pleasure and pride watching them going about their daily cycling activities and I am sure that my delighted ‘cyclist spotting’ smiles and encouraging waves must be quite confusing as they ride past.

When you are watching the every day cycling population of the city as we have been a major absence is immediately apparent: women.

According to research by CEPT University, just 5% of women in Ahmedabad make their daily journeys on a bicycle while 63% make their journeys on foot. It seems that this phenomenon is not just seen in India but also in urban centres in the US and Australia also where a large majority of cyclists are also male.

So why are there so few women who choose to cycle in Ahmedabad?

We have been doing lots of research and case studies and have come up with many possible answers but the overriding (excuse the pun) two reasons are:
  • It is regarded as an unsafe activity for women and
  • It is not the social norm

It seems that these two reasons are also an international phenomenon. So how can we address these issues and help women to ReDiscover cycling as a mode of transport?

Safety on the road is a big problem in India, the country with the highest incidence of road deaths in the world. In Ahmedabad most cyclists we have spoken to report bad traffic as a major hindrance to their daily cycling. Improving safety on the roads will take some design intervention with improvements in the attitude of other road users, the road conditions as well as the infrastructure and facilities available to cyclists.

The design suggestion I have come up with is a safety map that would be available to all cyclists using the ReDiscover sharing system and other sharing systems that may develop in the city. By making the map interactive, we could chart user’s personal experiences and therefore cater the map to the area and needs of the cyclists. The map could chart the more safe, dangerous or common routes in the city to cycle, facilities available to cyclists like safe toilets, rest stops and health facilities and use visual clues for directions to circumvent the lack of street signage. I have trialled using a user-generated google map and you can have a look at the results on the google maps webpage – search for ‘time to cycle’ under ‘user generated maps’. For more information or suggestions please leave a comment below.

Changing social attitudes towards female cyclists is a difficult talk but there are many design possibilities. Check out the ‘Copenhagen Cycle Chic’ site for inspiration on making everyday women cyclists and bicycles look very designer-cool.

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