28 June 2011

Gender Gap?

There's a fascinating discussion going on in bike-blog-land as a result of Elly Blue's Bicycling's Gender Gap post at Grist. She makes an interesting argument that the gender disparity in ridership figures could be a result of economic disparity and additional caregiving and household duties, in addition to the 'fear and fashion' theories - and points out that both cycling infrastructure and appropriate, affordable bikes for carrying kids and cargo are missing in most North American cities. The lively comment section is well worth a read, with additional points about racism, class-ism, street harassment, and public perceptions of cyclists being made. It's also well worth going back and reading the rest of the series of articles, which includes some especially salient points about political pressure to keep the status quo and the actual costs of freeways. The author also followed up on her own blog. Meanwhile the discussion has spun off onto one of our favourite bicycle blogs, Velo Vogue. Go read the links and meet me back here, mmkay?

You've read it now? Good stuff, right? If a bit counter-intuitive based on the explosion in lady-bike availability and number of women writing fantastic bicycle blogs.

So, instead of debating which is the most important, let's say that all those factors are at play in preventing women from riding at the same rate as men do in North America - which they probably are, to some extent. How can we fix that? How do we encourage more ladies to get on their bikes? Can bike blogs like ours, and the social rides and bikey events organized by blogs like ours, actually make a difference?

Angel (my Loop-Frame Love coblogger) and I probably aren't typical cycling activists (if such a person exists). We're moms with 2 young kids each and minivans and small budgets who live in the suburbs - and we'd love for this blog to (eventually) demonstrate that it's possible to live car-light under those circumstances, if not completely car-free - like our blogging heroes at Carfree With Kids, Car Free DaysChicargobike, full hands, mamafiets, and Totcycle are already doing on their blogs for their circumstances. So let's be honest about the barriers we face to doing that, and how they relate to the factors mentioned above.

(Our coblogger Jen's situation differs from ours in that she's living in a more central neighborhood in a different city, has one child, and is still commuting to full-time work instead of staying home or working part-time... so we hope she'll chime in in the comment section.)

My favourite current setup for easy kid-hauling is the Bobike Junior seat on a Raleigh-built 3-speed (Ms. Trudy Phillips),
but my 8-year-old is a bit too big for the seat and the pretty wicker basket will only hold a small bag of groceries.
We're pretty lucky in a lot of ways. We're middle-class white Canadians, so our experiences are fairly sheltered. Our husbands are not themselves cyclists, but are happy to support our interest in cycling. We're part of a bigger local community of cyclists, advocates, and bike bloggers who are demonstrating through their daily lives and organized rides just how much fun life on two wheels can be. We're social creatures, so it's probably important in helping us stay motivated that we have that support system.

We live in a city with progressive urban planners who are in the process of improving the infrastructure for public transit and active transport, and we live in neighborhoods that have multi-user paths and/or sharrowed bike lanes that we can safely ride to useful destinations. However, we also live in the closest big city to the Oilsands, in a politically conservative part of Canada, in a place where a large proportion of the automotive vehicles using the roads are pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles. So, when we venture outside the MUPs and sharrows, we don't always encounter drivers who are predisposed to be kind to bicycle users. We have been buzzed and yelled at. We totally understand when our friends who haven't ridden since their teens ask hesitantly about traffic on the route for the next Critical Lass. That said, the infrastructure in our neighborhoods has made that a pretty minor concern for our day-to-day rides.

We're also really lucky to be part of a community with an amazing not-for-profit (EBC) that makes it possible to buy a low-cost vintage bike and turn it into a safe, reliable ride we can wear our regular clothes on; but turning it into a grocery-getter and a good way to get young children from A to B can be a bit of a challenge. We still wish we could get our hands on a longtail or cargo bike without having to blow our budgets. Going car-free so we can increase our bicycle budgets is not in the cards for our families, and we're both still figuring out how we can run bike errands with two kids in tow, since neither of our eldest children are strong solo cyclists yet, despite being too big to be passengers. We'll be actively working on that during the summer holiday from school.

We can testify that how busy our day is and how pressed for time we feel does directly affect how much (or how little) we ride. A quick run to the grocery store without children for a few items is easily managed by bike, but multiple errands with the kids becomes an all-day adventure when you're not properly set up to do it by bike. A longtail or cargo bike would make that much easier, but ferrying the kids to extracurricular activities in other parts of the city immediately after school still would require a car because of the distances involved. If we were commuting for work, public transit would probably be more time-efficient than cycling, because we both live walking distance from major suburban transit hubs (As it happens, my husband has found that taking the LRT downtown is usually quicker than driving, and more pleasant.). So, ability to use our bikes while caring for our children and living our busy lives has been our single biggest barrier to riding more.

Your turn, my friends. What's your single biggest barrier to riding more? Which barriers do you feel apply to your friends (of either gender) who don't use their bikes? How can bike bloggers and cycling advocates help remove those barriers?

Update: I've just been reading Velouria's post on Lovely Bicycle about the different kinds of bicycle commuting, and I wonder how the study that's being discussed accounted for office-job commuters versus freelancers and errand-runners, and how gender might skew which category you fall into?

Update 2: You need to also check out LGRAB's new series of guest posts on commuting by novice cyclists, the first of which was just posted - they'll be talking about their barriers and how they surmounted them, too! I love the ideas from the current post of learning to bike commute in steps, and seeking out social ties to the activity so you have friends and role models. 

3rd July, Update 3: We've been invited to crosspost this piece on the perfectly wonderful blog Lindsay's List, which has necessitated a slight rewrite and the addition of a shout-out to a few of our car-free-and-car-light family blog heroes. I'll also be adding a photo that wasn't originally included, of my current setup, once it's been taken.

10 July, Update 4: http://lindsayslist.org/2011/07/gender-gap/ It's up!

23 June 2011

Critical Lass 5: South To Whitemud Crossing

Our fifth Critical Lass ride was the first on an evening that was threatening rain, after a few solid days of unusually wet and miserable weather, so our group was small but mighty. 

We met at the Bicycle Bottleneck, and lingered there chatting for awhile while some of us finished our chai, lattes, and poutine. 

Spoke cards installed and ready to roll!
Talking about the spoke cards Deb made. 
(They're 2 colour photocopies, sandwiched inside 4mil hot-lamination pouches.)

(No matter how carefully you trim and lay them out, they shift in the laminator - argh!
Next time we'll do double-sided printing on cardstock. Lesson learnt.) 

We're so happy that Selene was able to join us during her brief visit!
Lots of stylish raincoats and cardigans.
Plastic capes in case of a downpour stashed in baskets and messenger-style bags.
Selene's sweet Raleigh mixte - swoooon.
Monie's Apollo with awesome cork-looking grips!

Geneva's made-in-Japan Apollo was rescued after several months' abandonment in a back alley...
... and it has intact Fred Deeley Cycles decals.
Can you believe that Marilyn's fab shoes are second-hand?

When we got rolling, we skirted the U of A campus
and headed south on the multi-user path beside the LRT on 114th Street.

panda self portrait

Stopping to decide which restaurant to head to and call ahead for a reservation
after picking up Miss Sarah en route.
(Click the link to see her photo essay on the ride!)

The official bike path takes a detour into Lendrum that's a bit difficult to follow.
Where the bike path rejoined our route, we were split between street and path for the first block.
We also missed the official (unmarked!) spot where the multiuser path
crosses busy 111th Street just south of Southgate LRT station,
so we ended up single file on the sidewalk for a few blocks until we could cross at 40th Avenue.
By this time the sky was clearing and trench coats were feeling rather warm.
It's so hard to get an unposed photo of Miss Sarah without her camera in front of her face.
Duggan is a pretty typical 1970s residential neighborhood -
large lots, mature trees, lots of bungalows and split-levels.
Traffic was light on 40th Avenue and 106th Street so we felt really comfortable taking the lane.
Monie does mock outrage pretty well, no?
This sign was next to the bike racks we used at Whitemud Crossing.
Our destination. So good we forgot to take photos of the delicious food.
Having a smaller group for the ride meant we had a tatami room
and could indulge in serious girl talk.
Heading north on 106th Street before we all headed our separate ways.
Isn't Geneva's belt-bag the coolest dumpster dive find ever?

After parting ways to our various end points (some took to LRT for speedy home time, others returned to the Bottleneck), myself and Deb rode over to the multi-use path beside 91 street and down to my place in Mill Woods. Google maps says we did just under 20km total that evening. It felt great!
Deb with her '72 Phillips, just before we swapped bikes on the way back to Mill Woods.
Photo without flash.
With flash! WOW! That's a ten dollar Cactus Creek safety sash from MEC. (Note to self: MUST BUY!)

Luckily, it never did rain - not even a drop!
Thanks to everyone who came out for a delightful evening.
Your camaraderie would have made it fun even if the heavens had opened!

Reminder: here are the upcoming ride dates:

Update: Coreen's ride report is up!

19 June 2011

The Magic Stoplight - Updated

Update at the bottom:

One of the key aspects of creating walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods is to funnel traffic onto arterial streets and use traffic calming measures on the residential streets. For the most part, this seems to work pretty well in my neighborhood. Frequent speed bumps and traffic circles keep traffic speeds low and discourage cut-through traffic. The streets are narrow and tree-lined, making it pleasant for walking. It's quiet enough that I can give my son a little more freedom and let him run or bike to the corner on his own, though he still needs to wait for me to cross the street. It's a pretty comfortable environment for novice cyclists as well.

Until...you reach the arterials. These busy streets have high traffic volumes and speeds and often no safe way across for pedestrians and cyclists. If there is a street light, it's only triggered by the presence of a car on the secondary street - a cyclist can wait until nightfall without getting a green light. These arterials effectively form a moat or wall, separating my neighbourhood from parks, stores, friends - all the places that I want to use my bike to get to. Now, when I'm riding on my own, I can watch the traffic and usually find a gap between the cars that is big enough to dash across the road, even if it is a little hair-raising. When riding with my son, though, I was forced to either make a substantial detour to find a friendlier crossing or to dismount, hop up onto the sidewalk and press the button to trigger the pedestrian signal. Both options are annoying.

Last fall, my world changed. I discovered the Magic Stoplights. When a secondary street crosses an arterial, the city of Seattle typically installs an induction coil. If a car is waiting, the metal in the car triggers the switch, changing the light on the secondary street from red to green. In the photo below, you can just see the circular cut in the pavement where the induction coil was installed. What I didn't know is that a bike can trigger also trigger the switch! Because a bicycle has so much less metal than a car, position is key. You have to place your front tire on the little white T, approximately at 9:00 or 3:00 on the circle.

Placing a bike wheel on the "T" triggers the green light.

SDOT has recently changed the marking to the cute little cyclist shown below. I haven't seen any in my neighbourhood, but I have spotted one or two around the city.

Photo courtesy of Seattlebikeblog.com

This seems so simple, but it makes a world of difference in finding safe, convenient routes to our destinations. It's a great compromise, allowing safe crossings to cyclists, while maintaining good traffic flow on the arterials.

The main gap now is publicity - far too many cyclists have no idea what the markings mean. Every time I see a cyclist waiting for the light at the wrong spot, I make a point of telling them how to do it. I'm on a mission to spread the word!

Update: I was as at a neighbourhood meeting last night and chatted with a real, live traffic engineer. Apparently, the little white T marks the position of the induction lead, so positioning yourself on the opposite side of the circle won't work. Also, he recommended placing the crank over the T, as that's the part of the bike with the most metal. If you have a steel frame, it probably won't matter, but if you have a carbon fork, the front wheel may not have enough metal to trigger the switch. I tried this on my way home, but, alas, I found I couldn't trigger the switch no matter what I did. I've wondered about that particular intersection before, but there are always enough drivers and pedestrians around during commuting hours that some one always triggered the light before long. Looks like I'll have to call SDOT on Monday.

17 June 2011

June Critical Lass!

It's been a busy few weeks, so although we've tweeted about the date for the next Critical Lass we have been remiss in posting! Here are the details:

When: Monday, June 20th, meet at 6:00 pm, depart at 6:30 pm (weekday evening chosen to not coincide with major Bikeology Festival events during Bike Month)

What: an inclusive social ride for women and trans cyclists in stylish clothes, on a route suitable for novice riders, to promote cycling as an approachable, fun, everyday activity

Where: meeting at the Bicycle Bottleneck (that's the intersection of Saskatchewan Drive, 109th Street, and 88 Avenue) on the sidewalk near High Level Diner

Route: this time we'll meander through the neighborhoods around the University of Alberta, south on the multi-user path along the LRT line, and east on 40th Avenue to the Whitemud Crossing area (which will soon be easily reachable via the soon-to-be-installed 106th Street sharrows). Yokozuna Japanese Restaurant and Thai Valley Grill are among our choices for food afterward.

Update: yes, we know showers are currently in the forecast. We'll ride rain or shine.

We'll be making spoke cards using this cheeky 1940s postcard from my collection for attendees,
since our lovely friend Eri is too busy to make pins.
Upcoming rides (tentatively all scheduled on the 4th Sunday):

  • July 24th - Alberta Avenue (because We Believe In 118!) and The Carrot and Pho King
  • August 28th - suburban summertime ride - Millwoods bicycle infrastructure and a family picnic in Jackie Parker Park
  • September 25th - autumn colour ride along the top edge of the river valley