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Women in UK cities have a positive perception of cycling, yet 73% never ride a bike

Cyclists on segregated section of St Leonards Street, Edinburgh. Image credit: Tony Marsh

76% of women who already cycle or want to start would find cycle lanes that are physically separated from traffic very helpful to cycle more. Image credit: Tony Marsh/Sustrans

Oxford road Manchester, segregated cycle superhighway. Image credit: Livia Lazar/Sustrans

77% of women in UK cities want cycle safety improved Image credit: Livia Lazar/Sustrans

mother and child on bikes

Twice as many men as women (24:12) currently ride a bike at least once a week in all seven cities. NeilAldridge/Sustrans

12 June 2018

Almost three quarters (73%) of women living in seven major UK cities never ride a bike for local journeys.

Despite this, over two-thirds (68%) say their city would be a better place to live and work if more people cycled, new data reveals.

'Women: reducing the gender gap', published today by Sustrans, details women’s travel habits, views and attitudes towards cycling.

The report, which is part of the Bike Life project, is based on an ICM independent survey of over 7,700 residents living in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Greater Manchester.

The report also revealed:

  • Twice as many men as women (24% and 12% respectively) currently ride a bike at least once a week in all seven cities.
  • Differences in participation between men and women appear to be less pronounced in cities with higher overall cycling uptake. For example, in Bristol, which has the highest cycling rates of all seven cities,18% of women ride a bike at least once a week, in comparison to 32% of men. 
  • Across the cities, the vast majority of women surveyed (77%) feel that cycling safety needs to be improved.

Despite these findings, almost a third (30%) who currently do not cycle say they would like to start riding. 76% of women who already cycle or want to start would find cycle lanes that are physically separated from traffic very helpful to cycle more. 

The majority of women surveyed recognise cycling is good for their health and say more people cycling would have a positive impact on reducing traffic and air pollution.

The report comes out after London’s first walking and cycling tsar Will Norman, stressed that cycling will only be considered a success in the capital if it is taken up by a more diverse population. Currently, only 27% of bike riders in London are women.

Xavier Brice, CEO at Sustrans, said:

“A city that has a diverse and inclusive population of people riding a bike is a city for everyone. Cycling can play a vital role in improving health, whilst ensuring that jobs, services and communities are accessible. 51% of the UK population is female, yet most of our cities are failing to design roads and streets for women to cycle. 

“Evidence from the UK and beyond shows that when dedicated space for riding a bike is provided, alongside engagement programmes, the gender gap in cycling can be eliminated.

“Governments at all levels need to listen to women’s voices and invest in a network of dedicated cycling routes and training so that everyone feels comfortable and confident to ride a bicycle, regardless of gender, age and disability.”

The 'Women: reducing the gender gap' report sets out a number of recommendations for local authorities to create a more diverse and inclusive culture of cycling, including:

  • Planning and delivery of protected cycling routes on main roads and orbital routes reflecting local journeys.
  • Training and engagement programmes to enable more women to travel by bike.
  • Integrating gender into different stages of consultation, design, delivery and monitoring of new schemes.

Cllr Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for transport and air quality at Newcastle City Council, said:

“We are investing in improvements to the city’s cycling infrastructure as part of our ambition to make Newcastle one of the easiest places to get around, however people choose to travel.

“We know that there are many women in Newcastle who already travel by bike and many others who would like to. We want to make it possible for more women to choose cycling, not only through improving facilities for people on bikes but also through the activities run by Active Newcastle and the Cycle Hub aimed at encouraging women and giving them the confidence to cycle.

“Where cities have better cycling networks, more people – and particularly more women – are likely to make local journeys by bike, making our city cleaner, greener and healthier.”

Dr. Rachel Aldred, Reader in Transport, Westminster University, said:

“We know there is substantial demand for cycling infrastructure among women and other currently under-represented groups. In the Netherlands, women cycle a higher proportion of journeys than men do, showing that a good cycling environment works for both women's and men's trips.

“I welcome this report by Sustrans which highlights the need for inclusive policy and planning, including catering for a range of different cycleable trips: not only the commute, but also trips to school, or to the shops. Women too often have limited mobility: they're less likely than men to have access to cars and have on average lower incomes, so struggle to pay for transport more often. Enabling women to cycle can open up opportunities and help make our society more gender equal and inclusive.”

The report is part of Bike Life, a Copenhagen-inspired assessment of cycling levels and public opinion which is published every two years to inform policy and investment. In Copenhagen, over 41% of people commute by bike, including 55% of women.

For more information, interviews, case studies and photos contact:

Anna Galandzij, Senior Press Officer at Sustrans, 07557 915 648, [email protected]
Liv Denne, Press and Media Officer at Sustrans, 07768 035318, [email protected]

  • Bike Life in the seven cities is funded by The Freshfield Foundation and the city authorities.
  • Bike Life reports every two years on infrastructure, travel habits, satisfaction and the impact of cycling more widely. The information comes from local data, modelling and an independent survey with a representative sample of around 1,100 residents aged 16+ in each city, conducted in 2017.
  • ICM Unlimited is an independent research and polling company.
  • Bike Life mirrors the Copenhagen Bicycle Account which outlines the development in cycling, identifies challenges and informs planning. The Danish capital of Copenhagen is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. The Government has invested over £35 per head on cycling and a network of segregated cycle routes on almost all main roads and bridges across the city since 2004. In 2016, 41% of trips to work and education in the city were made by bike and 76% of Copenhagener’s feel secure when cycling (Copenhagen Bike Account, 2016. Copenhagen City of Cyclists).