Women Bike Wednesday: Introducing Women Bike PHL
Even before the start of the National Women’s Bicycling Forum in March mountain bike legend Jacquie Phelan was all fired up. Sure, she was psyched to participate in our national event, but the Forum wasn’t the only exciting engagement on her travel itinerary. She was also gearing up to be the star of another show: the launch of Women Bike PHL.
In the bustle of the Forum, I only had a few moments to check in with Katie Monroe, the leader of the new women’s campaign from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. But, given Philly’s growth in cycling and the amazing work of the BCGP, I certainly wanted to learn more. So who better for this week’s Women Bike Wednesday…
The BCGP is so great at gathering data — what have you learned about the number and attitudes of women riding in PHL?
With the help of many volunteers, the BCGP holds bike counts each fall at 17 intersections and bridges throughout the city. It’s been a great tool to allow us to see shifts in overall bicycling rates through the years. Between 2005 and 2010, the average number of bikes per hour counted grew 127%, but the percentage of women riders only grew from 26% to 32%. For the past two years, we’ve stagnated at 33%. There are also trends correlated to infrastructure: the gender gap shrinks significantly on streets with bike lanes. Check out our 2011 report, Mode Shift, for more info. (Editor’s note: Take her advice, great report!)
What was the inspiration to start a women’s-specific program / outreach?
The Bicycle Coalition has been thinking about this issue for a while. Personally, I actually came to it from an academic angle. In 2011-2012, I wrote my undergraduate anthropology thesis on the role of gender in the Philadelphia bicycling world. That research process really opened my eyes to the vibrant conversation that was starting to happen, both here in Philly and across the U.S., about the gender gap in bicycle ridership. In my academic work, I was interested in the gendered implications of that conversation: What does the way we talk about women bicyclists (or the lack thereof) reveal about how our society views women? Working at the Bicycle Coalition, I’m excited to be able to work on the more pragmatic side of the issue: What can we do, now, to get more women riding bikes? I think it takes more than just bike lanes (even though I love bike lanes!) to make women feel more welcome in the bicycling community.
What are the main objectives for the program?
Our mission is to make bicycling more fun and feasible for Philadelphia women of all ages and backgrounds. We don’t expect to close the gender gap overnight. This is a complicated process and it’s exciting to see all the different approaches that different cities and organizations are taking. But if we can encourage new riders, start to see that gender gap shrink, and celebrate the amazing lady bicyclists we already have in Philadelphia, Women Bike PHL will be a success! I’m excited to see how it will evolve and expand as we move forward, find new funding sources, and build momentum.
What are the main components of your Women Bike program?
Women Bike PHL is a multi-faceted campaign, with new possibilities popping up every day. We’re offering classes, including Learn-to-Ride and Urban Riding Basics, targeted to women. Sometimes this means that we make an existing class of ours women-only, to create that safe space for folks who want it, and sometimes it means partnering with a women’s group or organization to offer a class. For example, this summer we’ll be teaching a Fix-a-Flat class during Ladyfest Philadelphia, an activism, arts, and music festival centered around women.
We’re also working with bike shops, arts organizations, and more to offer fun, introductory group rides for women — our first was a “Take Your Time” ride in conjunction with a local woman-owned bike shop. In addition, we want to facilitate a citywide conversation about women and bicycling, so we are holding some events and forums on this issue: we did an presentation with Temple University’s Sustainability Office and Women’s Studies department this week, and are excited to host feminist bicycling activist extraordinaire Elly Blue on her “Dinner and Bikes” tour in May.
Finally, we want to raise the visibility of the many women who are already riding in Philadelphia, so we are set to launch weekly Women Bike PHL profiles on our blog, highlighting a diverse set of Philadelphia women who love to ride! I also see a lot of potential for collaborating with two of the other bicycling nonprofits we have in Philadephia: Gearing Up and Neighborhood Bike Works.
I know Women Bike PHL is taking an all-ages approach; tell us more about what that means and how you’re making it happen.
If we’re going to be serious about expanding ridership to more women, we can’t just look at college students and young professionals without kids. We have to get that little girl on her first balance bike to carry that joy through to her adult life; we have to get that new mom to see a bicycle as a viable way to transport her baby; and we have to get our grandmothers out there on bikes, too. My paternal grandparents rode bikes well into their old age, and really valued it as a low-impact form of exercise. I actually ride my grandmother’s old bike around Philly!
Some of this work is encompassed in what we’re already doing at the BCGP — expanding our bike lane network and regional trail network in particular — but I think we can do more to target the female demographic. Partnerships with girl-serving organizations, the local Kidical Mass group, children’s museums, and retirement communities are all in the works. Bicycles have this huge potential to carry you through your entire life, both for transportation and recreation, and I hate to see so many women missing out on that option.
How are reaching beyond the converted? I know you mentioned some exciting partnerships you’re developing, like the Girl Scouts?
I was a Girl Scout for 10 years, and I think it’s among the most powerful and far-reaching networks in this country for reaching and teaching girls. I’ve created a bicycling skills and safety badge (which does not currently exist in this area) and we are encouraging local troops to earn it. Girl Scouts of Eastern PA is sponsoring a Girls Triathlon/Duathlon in August, so I think this badge will be a great way for the girls to both prepare for that challenge, and also learn about some of the other possibilities for bicycling, besides racing.
How long did it take to develop your program and how did you launch it in your community?
We started with a small advisory committee of interested community members, just to start the conversation. There seemed to be plenty of enthusiasm and interest, so we moved forward in creating some language for the campaign, a logo, a website, etc. Our Facebook group attracted almost 200 members in just a few days, and we received a lot of positive feedback from our members about Women Bike PHL, as well. I’d say we’re still in the process of “launching it in our community” — every day I talk to new women (and men) about ways they can get involved. I think it’s good to stay open to a lot of options at this point for community support and collaboration.
What have you learned thus far and what’s your next step for the program?
The best thing I’ve learned thus far is the value of collaboration, info-sharing, and looking to others for inspiration. I have met so many wonderful people (of all genders) working in the bicycle world, and I am constantly inspired by them. Liz Jose of WE Bike NYC and Nelle Pierson of WABA’s Women & Bicycles program have been particularly supportive, and I hope what we’re doing with Women Bike PHL can inspire and help someone else with their efforts.
My next step, at the moment, is making sure we harness our various Bike Month festivities in May to really get the word out about Women Bike PHL, so we can build the community support and partnerships we need. I’m excited!