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Report: Safety fears tend to forestall women’s journeys in cities

Words: Laura Edgar
Women less likely to travel actively / Shutterstock_529903795

Walking and cycling charity Sustrans has called for equal representation in transport planning and delivery to help address the low number of women who travel actively in the UK.

A report by the charity, Are We Nearly There Yet, published ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, suggests that women’s journeys around cities are typically shorter than men’s.

They use different modes of transport and are more likely to involve ‘trip-chaining' (multi-stop journeys), which tend to be for a balance of childcare, work and household responsibilities.

Women are motivated to travel actively for physical and mental health reasons, but they worry about their personal safety, says the report. This, along with convenience – particularly multi-solo trips – and appearance are all barriers that prevent them from cycling and walking.

Are We Nearly There Yet considers the travel habits and choices of nearly 2,000 women in Glasgow and then combines the results with a literature review of research on women’s travel patterns across Scotland, the UK and Europe.

In Glasgow, 2 per cent of women chose cycling as a mode of transport against the 16 per cent of men who did. These figures mirror cycling levels across the UK, with men doing nearly three times as many cycling journeys as women.

“If we are to get more people walking and cycling, the industry must address the inequalities that exist in transport – at every level – from users right through to planning and policy-making” – Suzanne Motherwell

The report also suggests that there is a lack of evidence to show how women participate in planning for transport and creating transport policy in the UK. In Scotland, transport has the lowest percentage of women in senior posts within its public sector. Women represent 6.25 per cent of heads of transport bodies, while the sector accounts for only 22 per cent of female workers across the UK.

Suzanne Motherwell, evaluation manager at Sustrans Scotland, led the research. She said: “Our research has shown that there are a number of women-specific barriers such as lack of time, complex schedules and fears of personal safety, which stop them from travelling actively more often.

“If we are to get more people walking and cycling, the industry must address the inequalities that exist in transport – at every level – from users right through to planning and policy-making.

“By designing and building infrastructure that caters for both genders’ needs, we can help ensure the gap between the levels of women and men cycling is closed and, importantly, improve the everyday cycling levels in our cities and towns.”

Katie Hulland, president of Women in Transport, noted that less than a quarter of UK transport workers are women, “so we are massively under-represented in the planning and delivery of transport policy, infrastructure and services”.

She agreed that a more gender-balanced workforce would help the transport sector better address women’s needs as customers and service users.

“As the leading professional network for women in transport, we’re working with the transport industry, Parliament, government and beyond, to address women’s under-representation and promote a diverse and inclusive transport workforce.”

Speaking to The Planner, Hannah Budnitz MRTPI, chair of  the RTPI Transport Planning Network, said: "Women do have different transport needs and experiences than men, as do those with disabilities, children, and women travelling with children. Just as the Dutch found that making roads safer for children made them safer and more attractive for everyone, so making active travel interventions more considerate of women's concerns will make walking and cycling more appealing to more people generally. The RTPI has made a strong commitment to promoting and developing a diverse workforce, resulting in more gender balance among land use and strategic planners than among transport planners and practitioners - as far as I've seen at conferences, in the mainstream media and professional journals, or in survey results. This approach can be extended more directly into transport planning, and our Transport Planning Network already holds events which bring together the diversity of RTPI members with others who work in transport."

Are We Nearly There Yet can be found on the Sustrans website (pdf).

Read more:

News analysis: Physical activity and place

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