In its two-year life span, Citi Bike has been through a lot. The still-fledgling bike share system has been cursed by neighborhood groups, chastised by users, plagued with technical glitches, changed hands and recently, been given a design upgrade. Throughout all this, though, the program faces a particular challenge, one that can't be resolved by community vote or improved by a technology upgrade: Women aren't riding Citi Bike. But then, women aren't biking in general.
The Times reports today that women comprise only a third of Citi Bike's members, and that only around a quarter of Citi Bike trips are taken by women.
This, however, is roughly in keeping with the data on female cyclists overall—a study from Hunter College last year revealed that only 21.1 percent of riders are female. If anything, Citi Bike has been instrumental in increasing the number of lady riders, since the percentage of women Citi Bikers is 31.1 percent—a full 10 points higher.
So the larger question is perhaps not "why don't more women ride Citi Bike? It's "why don't more women bike, period?"
Safety is one issue: The Hunter study found women are much more inclined to ride in bike lanes, follow traffic rules and wear helmets. A report from NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation says that women tend to choose Citi Bike stations with fewer lanes of traffic, fewer trucks and in some cases, fast access to bridge entrances. With Citi Bike poised to expand its stations in the outer boroughs, it's reasonable to assume that more women will take up Citi Bike. For women riders in general, though, it's up to DOT to create infrastructure in which women feel comfortable riding—82 percent of female cyclists stick to riding in bike lanes only, versus 64 percent of men.
"There’s a huge underlying structural problem, why women—not just women—but why a lot of people don’t feel safe riding bikes in New York City, and it’s due to a lack of safe, well-maintained infrastructure, and sometimes a lack of enforcement by the police department," said Dani Simons, the director of communications for Citi Bike's parent company, Motivate. "You look at Copenhagen, and it feels as natural as walking to get on a bike, and you look at New York and it’s like there’s a lot more people now riding than ever before, but there’s still a small fraction, compared to the almost nine million people that live in the city."
But safety is just one factor. Also mentioned by the Times is the problem of carrying children. Make no mistake—it's not OK to just wedge little Tyondai on the handle bars and head for Flatbush Avenue. But it's certainly possible to outfit your own bike with child-carrying devices like trailers or child seats, or better yet, cargo bikes.
Casey Ashenhurst, director of the female cyclist advocacy group We Bike NYC, says that biking with kids is tied to confidence in one's cycling ability in general. "If you don't feel like a very experienced rider by yourself, it can feel very daunting to have your kid on the bike with you," she said. (For more information on riding with kids, click here.)
And then there's this: “I wouldn’t want to be gross the whole day,” one 21-year-old woman told the Times. Well, yes. OK. However. As Simons points out, there are various workarounds to sitting around feeling disgusting all day.
"I think the concern is real, but it’s surmountable, and people deal with that in all different ways," she said. The heft of Citi Bike forces riders to go slow: "It's not like you’re ‘in it to win it’ when you're on a Citi Bike," she added. Face wipes are remarkably effective for dabbing away sweat. If you feel gross after riding, consider a change of clothes, or hopping off a few blocks ahead of your destination and giving yourself some time to rearrange your hair and let yourself dry off. Hint: Bodegas are kept freezing in the summer. "I’ve definitely employed that tactic," said Simons. "Like, ok, I need to just get to the meeting ten minutes early so I have a chance to catch my breath for a minute. But it’s still worth it to me. You can have the same experience in the subway, by the way."
Ultimately, the solution is to tip women toward cycling by eliminating the barriers that have thus far prevented them from riding, Ashenhurst said. To that end, We Bike NYC has several forums for women looking to get into cycling. Click here for some information on group rides, and more information on the group in general here.
Update, 5:30 p.m.: The DOT points out that several projects are in the works to improve cycling infrastructure around the city. Take a look here.