Women on Wheels is a research project within the Dublin Cycling Campaign comprising of a multidisciplinary team of volunteers with backgrounds in social science, transport engineering, community engagement, and cycling advocacy, who are looking to better understand gender and cycling.
With support from the Community Foundation for Ireland, the research team questioned if the gender gap in the numbers cycling could be partially explained by women's experience of street harassment. According to the most recent census in 2016, the Central Statistics Office found that only 27% of all people cycling in Dublin are women. This difference in the number of men and women cycling contrasts with the figures from Denmark (55% women), Germany (49%), and the Netherlands (56%).
A Listening Session was organised in August 2018 with over 40 women to try scope out the range of issues they encounter when cycling. Some of the many issues identified, included the need to look smart, the joy of cycling, the way women were adapting their routes through the city in order to avoid danger and perceived danger - from broken glass on the street, to dark lanes and areas where car drivers speed.
Following a literature review, the research team explored a number of ways of conducting the research to better understand the experiences of women when they cycle in the city. The hybrid process that has evolved, includes recuriting as diverse as possible a mix of research participants to have their bikes fitted with a connected bicycle bell for about a fortnight in April 2019. Once set up, a record on a cloud based research platform was created every time a research participant rang their connected bicycle bell, which indicating where and when it happened, and invited them to indicate if it was a positive or negative experience, and to qualify the incident with a short description. In addition the research platform invited research participants to submit a diary entry about their travel choices each day of the research trial. One on one, face to face interviews were organised for the end of the field research stage, after research participants had become more sensitised to their daily journeys by bike when both describing the records created and writing up the submitted diary entires.
Currently the transcripts of the interviews, and the insights collected from the research participants through the research platform are being analysed. But patterens that are becoming apparent include: the sense of independence and freedom that cycling offers, the time saved by cycling, conflicts and disputes occurring with other road users and how that can influnce choice of route and even choice of mode afterwards. Many participants discussed how they felt they were regarded as women who cycled, and nearly all shared examples of poor quality infrastructure. Some of the examples described, might affect all people who cycle, but were more pronounced for parents cycling with children or when more weighed down with groceries. A notable pattern that is emerging was the joy that came not just with the feeling of movement, and time to oneself, but also the social interactions enjoyed along the way while cycling.
When complete, the research team plan to compile a report with a series of recommendations for the future of cycling in Dublin. Issues different people encounter when cycling are issues of equality and a paradigm shift is needed with the planning, design, maintenence, enforcement of the public realm in Dublin. There is a need for much more data on women's experience of cycling in order to build infrastructure that reflects a wider range of transport needs, for example taking into account the pattern of trip-chaining (women tend to make a series of short trips during the day, as opposed to a commute from A to B to A again), and a preference for segregated cycle lanes.
Which will go more towards eliminating discrimination, promoting equality and protecting human rights and believe that this should include cycling infrastructure in Dublin. Greater representation of women on bikes in publicity materials which promote cycling, will help normalise cycling for women. Improving inclusivity of the public realm will be more likely with greater diversity in stakeholder teams making decisions in policy, budgeting and implementation.