June 28, 2022

Towards an intersectional perspective in cycling

Cities across the world have increasingly prioritized cycling due to the dual climate and COVID-19 crises. However, it is important to address inequalities in cycling so that it can be an inclusive mode of transport for diverse urban populations.

To this effect, intersectionality can enable a robust distributional analysis to make explicit who benefits and who is excluded from cycling investments to devise transformative solutions that address the root causes of inequalities in city cycling.

There are two key factors that create gender and other disparities in cycling:

  • Structural inequalities in access to economic resources and free time

Structural inequalities in the labor market create disparities in access to economic resources and free time, which produce differences in how, where, when, and why we travel in the city.

Transport systems are designed for the default middle-class, white male user. Radial planning continues to reflect men’s travel patterns whilst failing to serve the mobility needs of women, children, the elderly, informal workers and those with more varied journeys.

Cycling investments occur within the unequal distribution of benefits of sustainable infrastructure investments, skewed towards wealthy elites, benefiting whiter and more educated populations with good public transport access. Those for whom cycling is a lifestyle choice or amenity, while ignoring those for whom cycling is a necessity due to spatial isolation and/or socioeconomic deprivation.

To promote inclusive cycling, investments in cycling must be fair and be seen to be fair. This requires more research and deeper engagement with people who may not identify as “cyclists”, such as migrants and precarious workers, including delivery cyclists, that are marginalised in cycling policy, planning and advocacy.

Contacless delivery service during quarantine. Man delivers food and shopping bags during isolation. Knocking at door and leaves goods until client picks it up. Safety, receiving, keeping distance.
  • Differential perceptions and experiences of safety, which are shaped by identity

There is a need for data disaggregated by gender and other sociodemographic characteristics to enable a more robust and intersectional analysis of sexual harassment in public spaces. However, US and UK studies demonstrate that female cyclists are at increased risk of near misses and road abuse from drivers.

In addition to this, perceptions and experiences of safety are also racialized: groups such as immigrants, people of color, with lower incomes, with disabilities, and children in the most deprived areas, are disproportionately represented in pedestrian deaths and road traffic injury.

Towards equitable cycling policies

  • Challenging the radial planning fallacy

Our urban mobility systems need to enable a wider range of journeys beyond the radial commute, in order to make cycling more inclusive, and, importantly, new cycling infrastructure must be provided in a spatially equitable manner.

Indicate symbol on road for bicycles

  • Improving data collection and disaggregation

City planners use cycle counts to guide decisions on where to install cycling infrastructure. However, they typically rely on methods like automatic traffic counters and camera sensors, which only capture quantitative data about the total numbers of cyclists and not socioeconomic demographics, like age, ethnicity or gender.

Furthermore, cycle counts usually take place in commuter corridors and around city centres or busy areas and not urban peripheries, where more people may cycle due to socioeconomic deprivation and/or spatial isolation. Disaggregated data is also important to understand how and why cycling is changing in particular areas as well as who is using and benefitting from new infrastructure.

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