In March 2019, Sustrans Research and Monitoring Unit held a roundtable discussion on women and cycling to determine what needs to happen next.
This month marks 9 years since I got back into cycling and launched my blog VéloCityGirl, so when Sustrans Scotland invited me to speak at their March 2019 Women and Cycling Roundtable, it felt like a fitting way to celebrate this bikeaversary.
The Roundtable was borne out of research Sustrans had undertaken on the gender gap in cycling. Findings from it highlighted that across UK cities, men are 2-3 times more likely to cycle than women; only 12 per cent of women cycle once a week and 73 per cent of women living in Bike Life cities never ride a bicycle.
Sustrans brought together a range of voices to explore some of these issues, identify solutions to get more women cycling, and discuss what actions could be put in place to improve the situation. Chairing the discussion was Sara Thiam (Director of the Institution of Civil Engineers Scotland), and keynote talks came from Megan Kirton & Tim Burns (Research and Policy Team - Sustrans), Dr Rachel Aldred (Reader in Transport at the University of Westminster), Joanna Ward (Principal Transport Planner for Waterman Group), and myself.
I could talk all day about the utter joy of being on a bike - deciding to get back on the saddle after a 10-year hiatus from cycling is one of the best things I’ve ever done! But I’d be lying if I didn’t talk about any of the barriers that kept me off a bike for so long, and the fact I still encounter some of them now. Being honest about those barriers and the various guises they come in, especially as a Woman of Colour in the cycling industry, is really important to me. I’m always frank about this - whether it’s my writing on VéloCityGirl or any panels/conferences I’m invited to speak at.
As I entered the reception area of Whitespace (the name of venue the Roundtable was being held in, which I must admit made me chuckle) and mingled with the other invited guests over the pre-talk breakfast, I immediately noticed that in a room of around 45-50 people (mainly women) I was 1 of only 2 Women of Colour, and 2 People of Colour overall at the event. Bringing up this ‘elephant in the room’ during my keynote talk and the following chaired Q&A session wasn’t something I was going to shy away from - especially as I had photo-slides in my presentation to illustrate experiencing this at past cycling panel events.
One of the things I frequently find myself talking about (which can sometimes be mentally exhausting to do time and time again) is the lack of diversity and representation of Women of Colour across different levels of the cycling industry. What was refreshing and interesting at the Women and Cycling Roundtable was that during the Q&A other guests picked up on this too, pointing out the lack of presence of other marginalised groups at the event.
A huge part of me hopes that Sustrans—who do incredible work—will indeed broaden their scope for not only events like this, but also further their research into why other groups of women are not cycling, and cover the wider issues of lack of representation. If the aim is to design cycling for everyone, then everyone needs to have a seat at the (Round)table.
My favourite takeaway from the Women and Cycling Roundtable was from Kris Muir, who spoke towards the end of the event and highlighted the importance of all voices being listened to in order to make changes. Just because marginalised voices don’t make up a large sector of society (ethnic minorities, disabled, LGBTQIA - which are also not mutually exclusive) doesn’t mean those voices don’t deserve to be heard - intersectionality is key to all of this.
If widening participation and improving planning for more women to get into cycling is a goal, then all of these voices need to be given the platform to be heard so that the decisions being made are actually rounded, informed and of course, truly representative.