Women and cyclists in Brussels, what are the prospects?

In 2019, only 36% of Brussels cyclists were women … Why this trend and how to encourage women to get in the saddle? Discover the results of the survey “Being a Woman and a Cyclist in Brussels” conducted by the Pro Velo Studies Department at the request of Bruxelles Mobilité.

The cycling population in Brussels has experienced continuous growth in recent years, with an explosion since the health crisis. On the main Brussels axes, we were able to count + 75% of cyclists in the first week of school in September compared to the same week in 2019. But women remain under-represented among cyclists, why and how to remedy this?

Elke Van den Brant, Minister of Mobility, Road Safety and Public Works:

This study shows us that in addition to the general need for secure cycling infrastructure, women have specific needs in terms of mobility. We must take them into account in our mobility policies and offer them credible alternatives, we must conduct targeted policies. Awareness campaign and support for women in getting into the saddle will therefore be on the program for the next few years because we will never be able to set up a global modal shift towards active mobility, without the female half of our population.

Fortunately, the survey carried out by ProVelo meets the priorities that the Brussels government has set for itself: making Brussels a region where women can travel by bicycle in complete safety and thus boost their mobility. A gendered approach to mobility is therefore essential to better meet the travel needs of women in the city. In particular, this involves ensuring a complete and coherent network of Brussels cycle paths so that women can, also by bicycle, reclaim public space in a safe and peaceful manner. This is an essential first step to positively influence women’s mobility practices. “specifies for her part the Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities Nawal Ben Hamou.

Obstacles to women’s cycling

Within couples, a majority of tasks tend to be assumed by women (La Ligue des Familles, 2018). To carry out these tasks, women have to make more complex journeys (transporting loads, children, multiple stops) that discourage them from cycling. The survey shows that women cyclists tended to abandon the bicycle for utilitarian trips such as family shopping, accompanying children, etc. as well as for trips including intermediate stops (only 5% of trips by bicycle include several intermediate stops against 13% of trips made with another mode of travel). The transport of children is also cited by 23% of women cyclists questioned as a barrier to cycling.

The survey also shows that women developed an increased perception of the risks and potential dangers associated with cycling in an urban environment. Thus, 54% and 47% of women non-cyclists questioned respectively cite insecurity and lack of ease as the main obstacles to the practice, while these obstacles are cited by only 6% and 5% of regular women cyclists. It appears that practice, experience and learning allow women to overcome these barriers.

The practice of cycling is finally perceived by some as difficult to reconcile with the elegance associated with femininity: riding in a skirt, not sweating too much, etc. are real obstacles to changing the choice of mobility on a daily basis.

Women see the bicycle as a solution for efficient and sustainable mobility

Despite the obstacles, however, the bicycle appears to many women as an advantageous mobility solution in more than one respect: efficiency, speed, flexibility, freedom, cost, etc. The top 3 reasons for regular cyclists to cycle: the benefit for their health (71%), speed (60%) and the pleasure they feel (55%). Beyond these obvious advantages, some women see cycling as a way to reduce their vulnerability to harassment in the public space or to not be dependent on public transport. Women also seem more sensitive to environmental issues, 48% indicating that the “ecological” criterion of travel is an important factor in their choice of cycling as a mode of daily transport.

The results of this survey confirm Brussels Mobility to continue investing to improve cycling infrastructure and conditions in Brussels. In consultation with Parking. brussels, there are more and more secure parking lots and urban lockers. With Pro Velo, the Region also offers specific training to support the setting in the saddle of women such as the Bike Experience, Via Velo training or the families @ provelo module which will start in October 2021. A major awareness campaign for this target audience will also be launched next spring.

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