Allowing footpath access increases bike riding by women, fresh evidence gathered by Bicycle Network has revealed.
In the Northern Territory, where footpath access is legal for bike riders and there is an extensive off-road bike network, women are a higher proportion of riders than any state in Australia.
Bicycle Network’s annual Super Tuesday Bike Count tallied riders in Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Palmerston and found that 30% of riders are women, well above the national average of 21%.
Alice Springs recorded 35% female riders, while Darwin recorded 30%.
Australia's other territory is the only other region where females are a similar percentage of transport riders. The annual count by Pedal Power in the ACT of riders entering Canberra’s inner-city recorded females as 30.7% of riders in 2017.
A higher amount of women riders is thought to indicate the health bike riding accessibility in a city. While no bike rider is the same, women tend to be more risk averse and a high proportion of females riding shows a welcoming riding environment that is appropriate also for children, the elderly and riders of all abilities.
In the top international cycling cities, women tend to comprise around 50% of cycling numbers.
After the NT and the ACT, the best states are Tasmania and Victoria, both with 22% female participation.
The only other areas that come close to Darwin and Canberra for female participation are the inner-city council areas of Melbourne that are famous for their quality bike infrastructure and protected lanes, such as Yarra (28%), Melbourne (28%), Port Phillip (24%) and Stonnington (24%).
Canberra has the highest usage of bikes for commuting of any capital city (3.3%), the 2016 census found.
Darwin also has a high usage of bicycles for transport relative to the rest of Australia, with the 2016 census recording that 2.6% of trips to work involving bicycle.
Sydney, infamous for its poor regard of bike riding, registered just 18% female participation in bike riding according to Bicycle Network’s Super Tuesday count.
Not only did Super Tuesday show that places allowing footpath access get people of all ages and gender riding, it also found that where there are off-road bike facilities, more people ride.
In the Canterbury-Bankstown area of Sydney, the Cooks River Path has 24% female usage. This is above the average female ridership in New South Wales (18%) and the national average (22%).
In Toowoomba, Queensland, another state which allows footpath riding, 27% of riders chose to ride on the footpath at the 15 sites counted.
Darwin data supports footpath access
Detail from the Darwin Super Tuesday count makes plain a strong female preference for the off-road options where they are available:
- At an intersection of two paths (Foreshore Path and Rapid Creek Path) 36% of riders were female and the counter also noted that “7% of all riders were children”.
- The Casuarina Foreshore Path has 41% female usage.
- At another site with 35% female usage the volunteer commented that most riders chose to use the footpath, with a few cyclists training on the road.
- An intersection with the Esplanade shared path carried 42% female riders.
- At a site with low female usage (11%) the counter commented that “there were very few female riders, possibly due to busy nature of the road and the poor quality footpath”.
- A two-lane roundabout described by the counter as “very congested” saw most riders choose to use shared paths over roads. Female usage of this intersection was 10 per cent.
- At another site where the “motor traffic was heavy” according to the counter, the report was that most riders chose to use the footpath, that, and that many riders were children. Female riders at this site comprised 26 per cent.
- A counter near a school in Darwin noted that “all but two riders used footpaths or shared paths and that most of the riders were students from Casuarina Senior College.”
We need to make Australia a place where everyone feels comfortable and confident to ride a bike wherever they want to go.
Footpath access is not a substitute for separated cycling infrastructure but it’s a good start that makes it easier for more people to ride.