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The “Women On A Roll” Report

The “Women On A Roll” Report

(image from the League’s press release – click through to read it)

Last week, the venerable League of American Bicyclists released their Women On A Roll report with lots of great data about female cyclists’ needs and challenges. It’s great to see a report that backs up what many womens’ cycling blogs have been saying for the past five years with numbers. While there are many other bicycle blogs covering this story in great depth – notably Lady Fleur‘s and Bike Portland‘s – I thought I’d share my thoughts. I can’t speak for younger female riders – like the 60% of bicycling Millennials mentioned in the report – but I can reflect on what those bicyclists will be looking for as they transition into the next phase of their life.

Suburban and urban moms like me want to ride more with our kids, and feel safe doing it; if we can’t, we end up having to make car trips instead. This is a no-brainer, right?

So, we’re not only looking for bicycles that let us ride to work in our normal clothes, and clothes that fit us properly even if we haven’t gotten back our pre-baby figures yet (ahem, a plus size line of commuter-style clothes would be an instant hit, justsayin’). We’re looking for racks and panniers and baskets to make it easy to haul all our stuff. We’re looking for secure seats and trailers that fit kids who are no longer babies but aren’t quite ready to ride on their own. We’re looking for midtails and bakfiets and mamachari. We’d rather not have to import them from abroad ourselves. We have young families, so we need them to affordable, too.

We’re looking for shops that make it easy for us to find these things, instead of hiding them in the back, and salespeople who don’t assume they know more about what we need than we do, and don’t assume that every woman who walks in the shop is a new cyclist. We’re looking for mechanics who don’t talk down to us if we bring them in for routine maintenance because we’d rather delegate that job than do it ourselves while juggling our kids and work. If we go to our local bike kitchen to do the maintenance ourselves, we’re looking for helpful volunteers who are cool with us bringing our kids along. (I count myself lucky that all those resources exist in my city, and that I was able to find them without too much effort, because I know my experience in that regard is far from universal.)

We’re looking for separated infrastructure that actually will get us from home to the local school, grocery, public transit hubs, daycares, shops, and workplaces, and that we will feel safe riding with our kids. Here in Edmonton, that means not only working on introducing separated infrastructure in key parts of the city, but making sure that the multi-use paths being built in residential neighborhoods actually are making it possible and convenient to run local errands by bike, even in winter.

I read the report and I see a lot to feel optimistic about. There are more women on bicycles than there have been in years, and great resources that are teaching riding and repair skills, and an explosion of interest in women’s rides and riding groups (like Edmonton’s Critical Lass ride, which is happening on Saturday this month).

For me, it’s not just about closing the cycling gender gap. If we make it easy and comfortable for women to ride with their families, then the numbers of kids and teens using active transport rise too. It’s healthier, and better for the planet, and way more fun to be on a bike than stuck in a car. Everyone will benefit from being comfortable riding their bicycle!

What do you think? Any surprises for you in the Women On A Roll report?


Cycle chic, personal style, and feminism

Cycle chic, personal style, and feminism

(Forgive me, folks, I’m a couple of months behind on my blog reading, but I had to share my thoughts on this…)

So. Wanting to wear stylish clothing on my bicycle makes me a tool of the patriarchy?


Heaven knows there are lots of sexualized ‘cycle chic’ photos that have been circulated that have almost nothing to do with bicycles and everything to do with the male gaze – for amazing commentary on that see Sweet Georgia Brown – and lots of other ‘cycle chic’ photos that have everything to do with selling us stuff we don’t need. The criticism that the cycle chic movement is vulnerable to being co-opted by sexism and consumerism is a valid one. However. That doesn’t mean the movement itself is sexist and consumerist.

On a continent where girls stop using their bikes sometime in their teens because they think it makes them look dorky, and where the idea that bicycling is a fringe activity is used to justify rolling back funding of much-needed bike infrastructure, I believe that photos of women and men (of all ages, sizes, and shapes) enjoying bicycle rides to go places and do things help to make cycling more accessible.

As for the perception that cycle chic prescribes a particular, exclusive, commercial version of fashionable: I do not believe that expensive clothes, or expensive bikes, are a prerequisite for cycle chic. That line about your clothes being more valuable than your bike in the Cycle Chic Manifesto? I think its author is talking about using the bike as a tool for living – along the lines of his post about your bike being like a vacuum cleaner. I stand with Velouria on that topic, and think emotional attachment to bikes we’ve customized to our tastes is part of what makes bicycling appealing – but the point is that perhaps he’s using ‘value’ (not expense) as a stand-in for relative importance. He’s saying it’s not about the bike, it’s about your personal style and your needs, and that your bike should suit you, not the other way around.

I don’t believe that youth and a standard definition of beauty are requirements of cycle chic, either.

It doesn’t matter if you wear something you’ve made, something you’ve thrifted, something you found in a big-box bargain bin or something you had to get on a haute couture wait-list to buy. It doesn’t matter if you’re twenty or forty or eighty. What matters – with both personal style, and cycle chic – is that you feel great about yourself, and that you’re having fun. To me, the most attractive thing about any photo of a bicyclist is the sense that they’re having fun on their bike. They look great because they feel great, no matter what they’re wearing.

I’m a 40-year-old plus-size mother of two who lives in the suburbs. I ride relatively inexpensive workhorse 3-speeds, for fun and the occasional grocery run, and I stop riding when the snow flies (icy roads plus drivers not expecting to see cyclists in outer-ring subdivisions is a bad combination). I have a closet full of jeans and t-shirts and thrift-shop finds and handmade jewelry. I rarely wear makeup, and I don’t do designer labels (Well, I have this one scarf, but it’s not an obvious status piece.). I am a chic cyclist, and a feminist, and an advocate for better bicycle infrastructure and more sustainable living.

None of these facts preclude any of the others.

What a shame that some bicycle advocates don’t see it that way. I guess they’re just not listening.

(PS: Yes, I know there’s an issue with the Disqus comments right now – I am waiting on their support people to tell me how to fix it. Apparently they upgraded their back end and broke the CSS somehow. Meanwhile, you can read the white-text-on-white-background if you highlight the comments.)

Gender Gap?

Gender Gap?

There’s a fascinating discussion going on in bike-blog-land as a result of Elly Blue’s Bicycling’s Gender Gap post at Grist. She makes an interesting argument that the gender disparity in ridership figures could be a result of economic disparity and additional caregiving and household duties, in addition to the ‘fear and fashion’ theories – and points out that both cycling infrastructure and appropriate, affordable bikes for carrying kids and cargo are missing in most North American cities. The lively comment section is well worth a read, with additional points about racism, class-ism, street harassment, and public perceptions of cyclists being made. It’s also well worth going back and reading the rest of the series of articles, which includes some especially salient points about political pressure to keep the status quo and the actual costs of freeways. The author also followed up on her own blog. Meanwhile the discussion has spun off onto one of our favourite bicycle blogs, Velo Vogue. Go read the links and meet me back here, mmkay?

You’ve read it now? Good stuff, right? If a bit counter-intuitive based on the explosion in lady-bike availability and number of women writing fantastic bicycle blogs.

So, instead of debating which is the most important, let’s say that all those factors are at play in preventing women from riding at the same rate as men do in North America – which they probably are, to some extent. How can we fix that? How do we encourage more ladies to get on their bikes? Can bike blogs like ours, and the social rides and bikey events organized by blogs like ours, actually make a difference?

Angel (my Loop-Frame Love coblogger) and I probably aren’t typical cycling activists (if such a person exists). We’re moms with 2 young kids each and minivans and small budgets who live in the suburbs – and we’d love for this blog to (eventually) demonstrate that it’s possible to live car-light under those circumstances, if not completely car-free – like our blogging heroes at Carfree With Kids, Car Free DaysChicargobike, full hands, mamafiets, and Totcycle are already doing on their blogs for their circumstances. So let’s be honest about the barriers we face to doing that, and how they relate to the factors mentioned above.

(Our coblogger Jen’s situation differs from ours in that she’s living in a more central neighborhood in a different city, has one child, and is still commuting to full-time work instead of staying home or working part-time… so we hope she’ll chime in in the comment section.)

My favourite current setup for easy kid-hauling is the Bobike Junior seat on a Raleigh-built 3-speed (Ms. Trudy Phillips),
but my 8-year-old is a bit too big for the seat and the pretty wicker basket will only hold a small bag of groceries.

We’re pretty lucky in a lot of ways. We’re middle-class white Canadians, so our experiences are fairly sheltered. Our husbands are not themselves cyclists, but are happy to support our interest in cycling. We’re part of a bigger local community of cyclists, advocates, and bike bloggers who are demonstrating through their daily lives and organized rides just how much fun life on two wheels can be. We’re social creatures, so it’s probably important in helping us stay motivated that we have that support system.

We live in a city with progressive urban planners who are in the process of improving the infrastructure for public transit and active transport, and we live in neighborhoods that have multi-user paths and/or sharrowed bike lanes that we can safely ride to useful destinations. However, we also live in the closest big city to the Oilsands, in a politically conservative part of Canada, in a place where a large proportion of the automotive vehicles using the roads are pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles. So, when we venture outside the MUPs and sharrows, we don’t always encounter drivers who are predisposed to be kind to bicycle users. We have been buzzed and yelled at. We totally understand when our friends who haven’t ridden since their teens ask hesitantly about traffic on the route for the next Critical Lass. That said, the infrastructure in our neighborhoods has made that a pretty minor concern for our day-to-day rides.

We’re also really lucky to be part of a community with an amazing not-for-profit (EBC) that makes it possible to buy a low-cost vintage bike and turn it into a safe, reliable ride we can wear our regular clothes on; but turning it into a grocery-getter and a good way to get young children from A to B can be a bit of a challenge. We still wish we could get our hands on a longtail or cargo bike without having to blow our budgets. Going car-free so we can increase our bicycle budgets is not in the cards for our families, and we’re both still figuring out how we can run bike errands with two kids in tow, since neither of our eldest children are strong solo cyclists yet, despite being too big to be passengers. We’ll be actively working on that during the summer holiday from school.

We can testify that how busy our day is and how pressed for time we feel does directly affect how much (or how little) we ride. A quick run to the grocery store without children for a few items is easily managed by bike, but multiple errands with the kids becomes an all-day adventure when you’re not properly set up to do it by bike. A longtail or cargo bike would make that much easier, but ferrying the kids to extracurricular activities in other parts of the city immediately after school still would require a car because of the distances involved. If we were commuting for work, public transit would probably be more time-efficient than cycling, because we both live walking distance from major suburban transit hubs (As it happens, my husband has found that taking the LRT downtown is usually quicker than driving, and more pleasant.). So, ability to use our bikes while caring for our children and living our busy lives has been our single biggest barrier to riding more.

Your turn, my friends. What’s your single biggest barrier to riding more? Which barriers do you feel apply to your friends (of either gender) who don’t use their bikes? How can bike bloggers and cycling advocates help remove those barriers?

Update: I’ve just been reading Velouria’s post on Lovely Bicycle about the different kinds of bicycle commuting, and I wonder how the study that’s being discussed accounted for office-job commuters versus freelancers and errand-runners, and how gender might skew which category you fall into?

Update 2: You need to also check out LGRAB’s new series of guest posts on commuting by novice cyclists, the first of which was just posted – they’ll be talking about their barriers and how they surmounted them, too! I love the ideas from the current post of learning to bike commute in steps, and seeking out social ties to the activity so you have friends and role models. 

3rd July, Update 3: We’ve been invited to crosspost this piece on the perfectly wonderful blog Lindsay’s List, which has necessitated a slight rewrite and the addition of a shout-out to a few of our car-free-and-car-light family blog heroes. I’ll also be adding a photo that wasn’t originally included, of my current setup, once it’s been taken.

10 July, Update 4: It’s up!

Municipal Election Bike Advocacy

Municipal Election Bike Advocacy

It’s municipal election time here in Edmonton (as you may know from the fabulous Miss Sarah’s blog), and I’ve been trying to work out who will earn my votes this time around. The new ward map means I can’t just vote for who I voted for last time, so a little research is required.

Luckily for me, Edmonton Bicycle Commuters have put together the terrific Cycle Edmonton website, compiling the responses from all the candidates to their questionaire and reader-submitted copies of email responses to letters. It also has links to all the candidates’ websites and other contact information. Highly recommended!

Update: The REALTORS Association of Edmonton have also posted the responses by candidates to their survey. Very interesting stuff.

(Also luckily, Edmonton Grows Up have endorsed a slate of candidates for the Edmonton Public School Board who will work proactively with communities to prevent school closures in mature neighborhoods. There’s a great post on Dave Cournoyer’s blog about the old-guard versus younger candidates for EPSB trustees that I also suggest you check out.)

However, there are a number of candidates whose public platforms are incomplete, or who have not replied to surveys and questionnaires. Since these particular candidates don’t have twitter accounts, I went with the next most immediate method to publicly ask them for more information online: their blogs. (More after the jump…)

For Edmonton Catholic School Board trustee candidates in my ward, the race is essentially between the incubent Marilyn Bergstra, and former trustee Michael Savaryn. (One other candidate seems to be running on a platform that Catholic schools are not religious enough – um what? – and the fourth candidate repeatedly misspells “school closure” in her campaign literature and has no website. So, I’m not taking them seriously.) Savaryn has replied to EBC’s questionaire and makes a point of discussing ways of preventing the closure of schools in core neighborhoods in his pamphlet (but, again, no website? Seriously?). Bergstra mentions her recreational cycling and work on anti-idling campaigns on her website; her literature is the usual effective-responsible-fiscally-prudent stuff that incubents here in Alberta always seem to run on.

So I asked her on her blog:

Hi Marilyn,

I’m a parent in your ward, with children attending St. Monica’s Elementary and Monsignor William Irwin Elementary Schools.

Can you please comment on your platform and record regarding closure versus renovation versus alternative uses for ECSD schools in mature, core neighborhoods?

Also, will you please take the time to complete the questionnaire you have received from Edmonton Bicycle Commuters? I’m very interested to hear whether, as an avid recreational cyclist yourself, you’ll advocate for adequate bicycle parking and other pedestian- and bicycle-friendly infrastructure at ECSD schools, bicycle safety education, bike-to-school events, and other measures to encourage students and their families to ride or walk to school.

These ideas can reduce the ridiculous crush of idling motor vehicles around our schools during drop-off and pick-up times, and promote stronger, healthier, safer, more vibrant neighborhoods.

I look forward to your response.

…No response yet. I wonder if I’ll get one? There’s so little conversation on her blog that I was surprised that comments were enabled.

(I may actually be in a position to follow up on some of these ideas at the level of individual schools in my part of town, since I have volunteered to help organize a bike-to-school month with a bike rodeo at my daughter’s school, and will naturally share the information with people at my son’s school as well… stay tuned for a separate blog post on that!) 

As for councilors, the race in my ward (Ward 9) isn’t hotly contested. We have a well-respected, fairly progressive incumbent in Bryan Anderson, who has replied to EBC’s questionnaire and said sensible, well-researched things – and a handful of challengers who none of the pundits seem to think have much chance of unseating him. (Envision Edmonton aren’t even funding a candidate in this ward.) The most interesting of those challengers, or at least the one whose platform aligns most closely with my own opinions, is Jennifer Watts, so I commented on her blog to see if she would also say sensible, well-researched things. (Update: she did! But none of them were about cycling infrastructure. Yet.)

Here’s what I said:

Hi Jennifer,

I’m extremely interested in sustainable design and development, and have recently taken up cycling again as a way of minimizing both my carbon footprint and improving my health. I bike both with my school-age children and on my own to run errands, and I’m fortunate to live in a part of Ward 9 where it is possible to walk, bike, and use public transit much of the time – although the multiuser pathways are not always convenient, and motor vehicle users sometimes seem dangerously unaware that adult bicycles are legally required to be on the roadways, not the sidewalks.

You’ve been quoted in the newspaper articles you have attached about the need to manage sprawl in our ward, and you specifically mention accommodating public transit and active transportation (walking & cycling) in the “Transportation” part of your platform, and supporting the community leagues and schools to strengthen our neighborhoods in the “Community” section of your platform.

Can you clarify how you, as councillor, would support our school boards in preventing school closures in core neighborhoods, and support rejuvenation of core neighborhoods so that they are attractive to young families such as mine, and the small local businesses promoted by groups such as Keep Edmonton Original?

Can you also clarify your position regarding funding of the City of Edmonton’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, and take the time to answer the questionnaire you have received from the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society? I’m very interested to hear how you would support cyclists and pedestrians, and thereby promote stronger, healthier, safer, more vibrant neighborhoods. (Readers can learn more about the City’s BTP, and see what other candidates are saying at

Congratulations on a thoughtful and progressive campaign. I look forward to your response.

Update: since her response did not answer the cycling side of my questions, and her questionnaire response has not been posted yet (presumably because she has not bothered with it), I posted a followup comment:

 Thanks for your thoughts on revitalizing mature neighborhoods by improving infrastructure, and how demographics influence school enrolments. Naturally, these are complex problems that require a many pieces to be in place for their solutions.

However, you really didn’t address my question about bicycling infrastructure. Cycling in Edmonton is increasingly popular, but the existing recreational multiuser trail network is incomplete and ill-designed for the needs of people wishing to commute to work or run errands in their own neighborhoods. City planners have recognized the importance of cycling and the trend toward increasing bicycle use by creating the 10-year Bicycle Transportation Plan, but it needs to be fully funded, and although the dollar amount for that investment is relatively small (less than the cost of a single freeway overpass, at $10-million per year for 10 years), it is vulnerable to cuts if councillors are ill-informed about the many other benefits of the plan. 

By completing the proposed bike paths and sharrow lanes, and fully integrating the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians into future public transit and roadway construction projects, we would not only ensure that everyone can travel our city safely and efficiently in a healthier, more sustainable manner. We’d also make it possible for families to get by with fewer motor vehicles, putting more money back in their pockets and thus improving the local economy. Improved bicycle infrastructure can also make neighborhoods come alive: more pedestrians and bicyclists on the streets lowers crime rates, and more pedestrians and bicyclists spending time in local parks and spending money in local businesses helps to build vibrant neighborhoods where residents know each other and set down roots. More people using their bikes means less traffic congestion, fewer parking issues, and requires less road maintenance.

Will you commit to fully funding the Bicycle Transportation Plan as part of your commitment to smart, comprehensive development plans and reinvestment in mature neighborhoods?

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comments.



Edmonton’s Cycling Infrastructure Funding

Edmonton’s Cycling Infrastructure Funding

The Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society sent out an alert through their Facebook group on Thursday, asking its members to talk to their municipal representatives about why funding for cycling infrastructure is important. As they wrote:

The bad news: the recommendation is not the $100M ($10M over 10 years) for cycling that we had initially expected. The city is missing out on a golden opportunity to save the city money and achieve its goals of having a more active city, less auto-dependent, with a compact urban form.

The city is not serious about getting people cycling. They are not dedicating the funds to making it safe and easy for people to cycle. Funding PR, such as the maps, promotional programs, and such won’t get people cycling: infrastructure investments such as on road lanes for bicycles will. It has been proven in other cities; New York, Toronto, Montreal, Copenhagen, Vancouver. If you want to get people cycling you have to make it safe.

This is the test for Edmonton City Council. Are we serious about cycling and reducing our auto-dependency, or are all of these plans just nice words?

Here is the letter I just sent to and – Edmonton friends, won’t you take a moment and write to them too?

Dear Mayor Mandel and City of Edmonton Councillors,

The Transportation and Public Works Committee is voting on the Active Transportation Strategy this Tuesday, November 17th.
I have read the report at; – and I am disappointed in both the relatively small investment being made in cycling infrastructure in this proposal, and how that funding is meant to be allocated. An increase in funding from 1.15% to 1.5% for projects shared between cyclists and pedestrians is disappointingly small. [Correction: actually, it’s a decrease in proposed funding: down from the original combined total of $286M over 10 years to about $22M over 3 years.]

When I moved to Edmonton as a graduate student in the early 1990s, I lived in the area close to the university, and I walked, rode my bicycle, or took public transit everywhere I went. I did not cycle as much as I could have at that time, because I did not feel comfortable cycling on busy city roads, and cycling paths in the river valley were (in my perception) the domain of recreational cyclists on beefed-up mountain bikes, not commuters on comfort or hybrid bikes. Buying my first car allowed me to explore parts of Edmonton that had felt completely off-limits to me – and when my bicycle was stolen shortly after my car purchase, I did not replace it. Cycling maps that indicate ease-of-use for the paved valley paths might have made my experience easier, but to encourage me to continue cycling at that time, on-street bike lanes and better bicycle parking would have made a huge difference, as would the ability to take my bike on public transit.

I am part of the recent boom in people who are taking up cycling as commuters (and blogging about it). I’m living in Terwillegar Towne, which is a convenient place to commute from by car (close to both the Henday and the Whitemud), and it’s become much more convenient to use public transit with the opening of the new transit hub at the nearby recreation centre site on 23rd Avenue and the imminent opening of the LRT line to the former Heritage Mall site. It’s also an extremely pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, with sidewalks and multi-use paths through parks. Now that my children are old enough to pedal on their own, I’ve gotten a bicycle again, and I’ve fitted it with big baskets so I can use my bicycle to reduce my dependance on my car for local errands (like trips to nearby grocery stores, which are a bit too far to walk to conveniently). When the schools open in our subdivision in September, we plan to ride back and forth to school. I hope we won’t need to ride on the sidewalk to do so, and that there will be easily-accessed bike racks of appropriate size for both adult and child bikes at the schools.

I’m also looking forward to taking my bicycle to – or on – the bus and LRT. To make that convenient, I’d love to see secure covered bicycle parking at major transit hubs, and a way to bring bicycles onto transit. Under the current proposal, funding for those projects would be deferred until at least 2012 and possibly later.

I’m fortunate to be living in a new neighborhood with such amenities, and I feel strongly that all parts of Edmonton should have such opportunities – which is why I strongly support the sidewalk and curb ramp rehabilitation and renewal programme outlined in the report, and other city policies that support renewal and family-friendly infill development in older, established Edmonton neighborhoods. I do not think that any infrastructure rehabilitation projects in these neighborhoods should be deferred in an effort to find funding for new projects. I would prefer that roadway expansion along the Henday be deferred, if necessary, to allow funding of inexpensive cycling infrastructure projects (such as repainting key roads to identify cycling lanes) and quicker implementation of projects that will allow commuters to combine bicycle use with public transit. I support that strategy, even though deferring completion of some planned projects along the ring road would affect me personally, as a driver who uses the Henday regularly and who has benefited from the ease with which it allows me to reach far-flung parts of the city. Deferring roadway expansion along the Henday could allow projects to move forward that will make it easier to commute by bicycle, reducing traffic volumes and making it easier to find automobile parking in congested areas like downtown and Whyte Avenue – so drivers would also benefit.

Thank you for your hard work in making Edmonton a more sustainable city!

Warmest regards,

UPDATE: I’m also helping Edmontonians Supporting A Green Economy (E-SAGE) to draft a letter about this. From that letter:

We appreciate that the City of Edmonton is working hard to craft policies that support a more sustainable future for its citizens. However, we worry that in limiting the immediate funding for the creation of cycling infrastructure – and combining it with the funding for pedestrian infrastructure – that the City may miss a golden opportunity to capitalize on a boom of interest in commuter cycling by making it easier and safer. Making it safer to cycle in this city will result in fewer accidents (both bicycle-auto and bicycle-pedestrian), and will encourage more people to use their bicycles. More people cycling to work, or combining cycling with public transit use, would translate into less vehicle traffic and more parking in congested areas like Downtown and Old Strathcona. It would reduce requirements for road repairs and road widening, and subsequently save the city money in the transportation budget. It would help the city meet its goals for reducing its carbon footprint, along with other environmental and public-health benefits. Making it possible for families to do without their cars, or for two-car families to make do with only one, would provide them with additional disposable income that would be spent in our community, stimulating the local economy.

For more information about the benefits to cities of increasing cycling infrastructure, we invite you to read the following articles:

The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure Investments (a point-form summary on EcoVelo of a policy research report by The League of American Cyclists):

How To Get More Bicyclists On The Road, an article from Scientific American:

Bucking The Cycle (an article from the Los Angeles Business Journal about the connection between cyclists and shoppers at local businesses):