Bicycling in D.C.: Where are the women?

Bikeshare memberships are weighted heavily toward men. (WTOP File)

WASHINGTON — Is bikeshare a guy thing?

Buzzfeed crunched some numbers, and they indicate that in New York City, Chicago and Boston, the bikeshare membership is male-dominated.

Women make up just one-quarter of the memberships, according to the numbers assembled by Buzzfeed, which include annual, not daily bikeshare memberships.

In D.C., the numbers weren’t as clear. According to the latest survey by Capital Bikeshare, members tend to be younger than what the report calls “the average commuter,” and they are more likely to be white and male.

Nelle Pierson, outreach coordinator with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, says women compose just 24 percent of the overall ridership in the D.C. region, and that a number of issues help explain the disparity.

Safety is an issue, both in terms of navigating traffic and street harassment. WABA’s Women & Bicycles program held a workshop on the issue Wednesday night.

“Over 65 percent of women have experienced street harassment in their lifetime,” Pierson says.

She adds that riding a bike makes her feel less vulnerable than being on foot. Yhe ability to get past someone engaging in harassment faster offers some relief from the obnoxious and sometimes threatening behavior.

Pierson says men and women share concerns about clothing and gear: Biking in extremely hot weather calls for creative cooling methods once you arrive at work or at lunch. But for women, there’s another barrier to biking — trip-chaining.

Pierson explains the concept: “Drop off kids at day care, go to work, go to the grocery store afterwards, pick up kids from daycare, take them to practice, then go home.”

Women are still twice as likely to be the parent most likely to carry out those errands, she says.

Rachael Slivka recently moved to D.C. from Brooklyn and says she’s not intimidated by riding in the District.

“It’s pretty easy to ride on the street,” she says, “and actually the cars are pretty respectful.”

Regarding personal safety, Slivka says she’s cautious. She hasn’t ridden her bike late at night in the District.

“Mostly because I don’t know the streets here yet, but also because as a woman, you worry about being alone.”

Pierson says her group can help with that. The Women & Bicycles group meets regularly.

“We do a weekly coffee club, monthly rides and workshops all geared towards bringing women together and encouraging more women to ride.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.


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