By Jonathan Krall
The Alexandria SpokesWomen are making bicycling fun and easy, instead of intimidating, through events, social and educational gatherings, and social media. According to Portland State University, 70% of Americans would like to bicycle often, but the League of American Bicyclists says that only15% ride more than once weekly. That means 55% of us aren't getting what we want.
Conventional wisdom holds that fear of traffic causes women to ride at less than half the rate of men, but is it really that simple? So I asked. I heard from Spokes Etc. employee Becky Puritz, Jennifer Hovis of Potomac Greens, Natasha Andersen of Taylor Run, “Susan” (not her real name) of Old Town and Andrea Hamre of Lynnhaven. These are active SpokesWomen of all ages. All have jobs. Some have children.
Is bicycling part of your daily life?
BP: I love biking every day, and joined the sport because I like biking to a destination like work or shopping.
JH: I commute to work on my bike as much as possible and try to consider what errands I can run on my bike rather than driving. Commuting by bike reduces my work stress and it helps that I save money on gas and parking. I'm extremely fortunate that my office building has showers, lockers and a secure bike cage.
NA: For many years it was, but with the kids bigger and changing jobs I find it harder to do my daily commute by bike. I am happy to encourage family bike riding through participation in Kidical Mass [family bike rides].
S: I am cultivating a habit of riding before work and notice that when I get to work I feel much more awake. Bicycling in daily life is a good idea and I hope more people do it even if they just ride around their neighborhood.
Is the bicycle network in Alexandria working for you?
JH: Our bicycle network in Alexandria is far from perfect, but the City has made great strides. As a resident of Potomac Greens, I love the new “advisory bike lanes.” I am so much more comfortable on my daily commute now that I have a designated space to ride, and traffic speeds are definitively lower. I have seen young families riding together in the new bike lanes, where they previously would have ridden on the sidewalk in order to feel safe.
S:I think it would [be a disservice] to have only trails for bikes to use. We need to be on the street with the cars demonstrating that we know the rules of the road and that they can share the road with us and still get where they want to go in a timely fashion.
Is bicycling culture giving women the “cold shoulder”?
S: No, but maybe a better way to view the disconnect is biking style. I ride in an easy going and not particularly fast way by myself. When I bike with men, I am much more brave, ride faster and my posture is more aggressive.
BP: I think the sport of cycling still excludes and alienates women at the highest levels, but the culture of cycling has become more inclusive and urban utility cycling culture in particular has been reaching out to women.
NA: In this area there is a strong female bicycling community that is very inclusive.
Does bicycling need an image makeover?
JH: Absolutely. So much of the car vs. bike fight stems from the misperception that everyone out on a bike is [racing]. Many riders are just looking to enjoy our beautiful city, get some exercise, or run some errands.
NA: [Bicycling] went from "those crazy people" to being "cool." Things like Capital Bikeshare have also helped make biking accessible to a larger group.
AH: Our recent Little Black Dress ride was the first time I had a chance to dress beautifully and ride my bike with a group of women, and it felt great to show onlookers a broader spectrum of what you can look like while using a bike to get around the City of Alexandria.
BP: The makeover is underway, we just have to get behind it!
Is being yelled-at or honked-at by drivers a common experience or is it just me?
NA: It isn't just you. I do vividly remember being yelled out while taking my son home from preschool in the bike trailer. A nice motorist yelled "get a motor vehicle!" Totally bizarre!
S: A few times I've been honked at … in Old Town. People have spoken to me from their cars to thank me for stopping at red lights. One time some men in a van chatted me up at a red light.
JH: I have experienced it from every direction [and] worry that it discourages those who are less experienced. In order for someone to start biking, or start biking MORE, they will absolutely need to feel comfortable doing it.
AH: Street harassment says much more about the harasser than the harassed, and I think the more we can relate to each other and empathize with one another's travel experiences, the safer and more courteous our road culture will be.
I'm a testosterone-addled male who could barely tear himself away from the Tour de France to write up these questions. Whatever the point is, I'm pretty sure I'm missing it. What's the point?
NA: Ha! I think the point is that cities should think beyond the metal coffin. As a mother of a daughter that is just entering Middle School, I like that I can offer her the freedom to walk. Where I grew up the streets were made for cars and I was not afforded the same freedom that a safe street offers. Complete streets matter.
JH: To put it simply, we are trying to create a community of women who enjoy and feel comfortable biking in Alexandria. We have riders of all ages and abilities. We partner with local businesses as much as possible. We are trying to tackle issues that [can be] obstacles to women, whether it's intimidation at the bike shop or wanting to figure out the best way to carry two (or more!) kids by bike.
Crossposted ot AlexandriaNews.com