Local History, Exciting Future of Women on Bicycles – Part II

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(Editor’s note:  This is the second in a two-part series by Susan Bissell for Shasta Living Streets. Read Part I here. )

Today, women bicycle for many of the same reasons as their 19th century counterparts. Fun and fitness are still the top reasons women give for bicycling.

Bicycling can be a healthy and fun way to complete errands, get to work, or just get outside. Yet in an era when heart disease is the top killer of women, and more than a third of American women are obese, women are only responsible for 29 percent of bicycle trips in the United States. Most women cite safety concerns as the biggest reason they don’t ride more.

Locally and nationally, for both men and women, the absence of bicycle lanes is the top deterrent to bicycling.

Women are key to creating a bicycling culture. Women represent close to 50 percent of all bicycle trips in countries with the highest bicycling rates. In the Netherlands, women account for 55 percent of all bicycle trips. Women, who are more likely than men to regard bicycling as a family activity, influence the bicycling habits of their kids. When women don’t bicycle, or don’t see bicycling as safe, their kids are less likely to bicycle.

Locally, Shasta Living Streets is advocating for safer bicycling and walking options in Shasta County. During Family Bicycling Day, an annual Shasta Living Streets event held in April, many participants expressed concerns about the local bicycling infrastructure.

One mother wrote, “I want my kids to be able to bicycle to school – it’s one mile from our home – but cars drive too fast.”

Those concerns have far-reaching effects. In Shasta County, 34 percent of students are obese. National statistics show only 13 percent of students walk or bicycle to and from school. In fact, 43 percent ride in cars to school, even though they commute less than one mile.

Women are also deterred by the misconception that they can’t carry much on a bicycle. Heather Phillips disagrees. Three years ago, Phillips hardly bicycled at all. Then, she started working with a client who had a Dutch-style cargo bike (called a bakfiets). She decided to get one of her own. Now, she bikes or walks at least three days per week to school with her 4-year-old son, commutes to work, goes grocery shopping, and even goes to the hardware store on her bicycle.

“It’s always amazing just how much STUFF I can haul with sheer girl-power,” says Phillips.

Bicycling with young children is another concern for women. Today, families have many options for bringing kids along. Trailers, bicycle seats, trailer bikes, and tandems are all options. So is the bakfiet. Phillips’ son always hated car rides as a toddler, but he loves the bike.

“There is so much to see and talk about during our commute,” she says. “The bike makes the journey as enjoyable as the destination.”

Phillips, understandably, gets a lot of attention on her bakfiets. That attention is the single, most effective tool to get more people riding. When people see others out riding, doing errands, and being with their families, they believe that they can do it, too.

Few people are aware of the variety of bicycles, tricycles, recumbents, and handcycles that are available. American bicycle shops tend to focus on fitness and recreational bikes, which can be impractical for daily use. Recognizing that gap, Phillips now rents her bakfiets on spinlister.com.

Cities like Portland, Oregon and Davis, California are proof that Americans will bicycle more when they feel safe. When communities create more bike lanes, more people bicycle. When drivers are used to seeing bicycles, they tend to adjust their driving habits to accommodate them.

Locally, the Dana Drive extension of the River Trail and the Cypress Avenue bridge improvements get high marks in Shasta Living Streets. Projects can be expensive, but the benefits of being a bicycle-friendly county are far reaching. Children who are healthier tend to do better academically. Fewer cars mean less pollution. The costs of bicycle ownership and maintenance are minimal compared to cars. The challenge is to get community members and leaders to see the benefits, and be willing to pay for them up front.

Shasta Living Streets is a local organization working to do just that. The organization’s goal is to allow all members of the community, regardless of age, to lead an active lifestyle and bicycle and walk every day for transportation, health, and joy. Shasta Living Streets believes that our natural outdoor recreational attractions, coupled with a focus on active transportation, can make the region a top destination for families, businesses, and tourists.

Phillips believes it is possible. “Imagine,” she says, “if children grew up knowing that all trips under one mile were going to be by bike. Imagine the change in our community’s health and happiness!”

To learn more about the history of women and cycling locally join the Shasta Historical Society for their monthly program — this Saturday, Feb. 15, at 1:30 p.m. at the Shasta College building in downtown Redding. Speaker will be Anne Thomas from Shasta Shasta Living Streets is a local organization that relies on public support.

Shasta Living Streets is a local organization working to do just that. The organization’s goal is to allow all members of the community, regardless of age, to lead an active lifestyle and bicycle and walk every day for transportation, health, and joy. Shasta Living Streets believes that our natural outdoor recreational attractions, coupled with a focus on active transportation, can make the region a top destination for families, businesses, and tourists.

For more information, go to ShastaLivingStreets.org.

Susan Bissell  lives in Alaska and the North State. She enjoys riding her green Bike Friday around town and in her many travels. She is a volunteer for Shasta Living Streets.

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