This month I had the life-affirming experience of attending the first ever National Women’s Bicycling Summit in Long Beach. Organized by the League of American Bicyclists, the summit brought together more than 275 women (and not nearly enough men — CalBike’s Dave Snyder was among the few) from around the country to share their stories, successes, and struggles in an effort to increase the number of women who bicycle and take on leadership roles in the bicycling movement.
Currently, women make up only 24% of all bike trips nationwide. In California, just 27% of bicycle commute to work trips are made by women, according to the 2011 American Community Survey. “Without engaging, empowering, and elevating 50 percent of the population — women — we simply cannot succeed as a movement,” said Carolyn Szczepanski, communications director of the League of American Bicyclists, in her introductory remarks,
In her keynote during the opening plenary, Leah Missbach Day, founder of World Bicycle Relief, talked about the bicycle not as just a bicycle but as a tool for creating gender equality, economic opportunity and stability, and community cohesiveness, especially in developing countries. I think the same can be said about the power of the bicycle here in the U.S.
I lead a panel titled “Creating Communities That Work for Us; Women and the Political Process.” I was joined by three amazing panelists, Cathy DeLuca, who did her Master’s thesis on female participation on Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory committees in the state of California; Felicia Williams, who is on the board of C.I.C.L.E a bicycle education and advocacy organization in the LA area and a commissioner in the City of Pasadena; and Meghan Sahli-Wells, newly elected Culver City City Councilmember (only the fifth woman in the city’s 95-year history to be elected to the council) and a founding member of the Culver City Bicycle Coalition, a Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition local chapter.
Our panel discussed why it is important for women to be involved in the political process, from attending city advisory, commission, or council meetings to being a member of an advisory committee, commission or city council as well as the barriers for why more women are not involved. We also discussed how we can encourage and empower more women to get involved, with a lot of women attending the session sharing their experiences.
Streetsfilms put together a great video that featured some of the women who participated in the social justice panel and showcased inspiring programs that are engaging women of color in cities around the country.
The League of American Bicyclists used the summit to announce its goal of achieving gender equity for all bike trips by 2025. I’m honored to join a team of brilliant women on the board of Women Bike, the new League initiative to help us reach this goal.
In California, CalBike is working to enable more women to ride bikes for transportation with legislation that will make it easier for communities to implement innovative bicycle infrastructure like we see in Europe. In Denmark and the Netherlands women bicycle at the same rate as men, in large part because the bicycle infrastructure is separated from auto traffic.
After the National Womens Bicycling Summit, I’m more confident than ever that we can achieve the same results in California.