Greater Manchester’s Bicycle Mayor Belinda Everett brought women’s safety into the spotlight with her ‘lights up' ride, where she led 60 women on creatively-lit cycles through the city. In this blog, Belinda talks to us about our recent work to install lighting on the Fallowfield Loop in South Manchester, and about what needs to change to give more women the confidence to ride through the year.
Around 60 women attended the Lights Up Ride in Manchester, which started at the city's iconic statue of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peter's Square. Credit: Eve Holt
Since Belinda Everett became Greater Manchester’s Bicycle Mayor in June 2023, she has worked hard to help improve the gender imbalance of cycling.
Her work has included organising inclusive cycling events to attract women from diverse communities across the city region.
Our Bike Life report found that women are half as likely as men to cycle.
The 2018 report also found that just 22% of women said they feel safe cycling during hours of darkness.
In the winter, Belinda says women become "invisible".
The Mayor came up with an idea to give women more confidence on the roads, and on dark cycle paths.
“I came up with idea of a ‘lights up ride’ as women are a lot less likely than men to go out at night.
“To some extent, when it’s darker we become invisible.
"I wanted to get a collective of women together and make it fun. We called it a 'disco on wheels'.
“We looked at every boundary or obstacle that women have to go through, and how we could do it together."
Strength in numbers
“Riding in a group helps women feel safer.
"So even if you’d never ride alone at night, in future you might ride with a friend.
“One woman who did the ride said it gave her confidence to ride back through town on her own.”
The lights up ride also went into an unlit park at night, something many of the women had not experienced before.
“People felt much safer in the bit that’s lit up.
“You have a safer sense of your environment when you can visually see ahead.”
New lights installed on the Fallowfield Loop at St Werburgh's Road, Chorlton, as part of our work with Manchester City Council to improve accessiblity and safety.
The power of light
Positive change has been felt in South Manchester following the installation of lighting on a section of the Fallowfield Loop near St Werburgh’s tram stop.
This was just one of a range of access and safety improvements our Sustrans North team has worked on in collaboration with Manchester City Council.
In response to this, the Cycling Mayor said:
"You can really feel the difference on the section with the lights compared to the rest of the route.
"It has a cosy, ambient feel.
"There’s been great feedback from people.
“It’s not nicest of experiences, cycling through the Fallowfield Loop in the dark. You brave it.
"People who are most vulnerable, women and children, just won’t do it.
"This extends its use.
“The hedges have also been cut back a lot which makes you feel safer, and helps you see further.
"There was a nice wide entrance so a large cargo bike could get through and two cargo bikes can go alongside each other.
"It has a European feel.”
In the future, Belinda hopes to see the whole of the eight-mile Fallowfield Loop lit up, so all the communities along it can benefit.
Working with communities
Belinda is currently working with economically deprived communities in Oldham, Rochdale and Trafford, to set up hubs where people can try out cycling.
These areas have low-car ownership, but they have much less walking and cycling infrastructure and minimal culture of active travel.
Women are even less likely to walk and cycle in these conditions, she says, so investment is key to changing that.
“I’d love to see bike mechanics rolled out in schools, so women and children have the option to do basic bike mechanics.
"And parents could learn how to ride a bike when they drop kids off at school.
“They could ride for longer and feel less vulnerable on the road."
Belinda became Manchester's Bicycle Mayor in June 2023. Credit: Belinda Everett
Belinda welcomes the vision for Greater Manchester’s Bee Network, in which 95% of the city region’s residents will live within 400 metres of an active travel network.
Infrastructure will be clearly signed and integrated with public transport, so everyone can navigate easily across the city region.
Sometimes, Belinda says it’s about tackling pinch points too.
She gives the example of a popular footpath near her home, which is close to a hospital and university.
It’s used by thousands of people in the day, but without lights it becomes a danger zone at night.
Looking at infrastructure with a 'gender lens'
“People either brave going through the path, or they take the long way round that adds 20 to 25 minutes to their journey.
"That means a lot to a doctor or a nurse coming off a late shift.”
Belinda is optimistic that in future we will apply the ‘gender lens’ to all our infrastructure and help make our public spaces safer and more accessible for everyone.
Her role as Bicycle Mayor is part of an international movement, set up by a non-for-profit called BYCS, to champion community-led urban change through cycling.
“This is an international issue.
"Everything we experience here on the gender bias with cycling is also happening in other countries.
"We can learn from how women are dealing with these problems in America, Holland and Brazil.
"I am part of a strong network of women-led cycling hubs, in which we all work together for change, but we want this number to grow into a much larger community - so cycling is accessible for all within Greater Manchester."
Manchester recently won the bid to become European Capital of Cycling in 2024.