9,000 women call for safer roads for cyclists

By Richard Peace | Tuesday, January 26, 2010 9.00am

Transport Minister Sadiq Khan has been handed a petition signed by 9,000 women calling for safer cycling conditions on the UK's roads.

The Motion for Women was launched in September in response to research from sustainable transport charity Sustrans that showed 79 percent of women in Britain never cycle.

Cyclists Terry Cassels, from Essex, and Rachael Wood, from London, visited the House of Commons to deliver the petition. It was also sent to the National Assemblies of Scotland and Wales.

'Not feeling safe' was the most common reason for not cycling cited in the Sustrans survey, with a majority believing that more segregated cycle lanes are needed.

Major organisations have backed the petition, including the charity Mind, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, the Townswomen’s Guilds and Women in Rural Enterprise.

Rachael Wood stressed the importance of the 'fear factor' as a deterrent: "Whenever I talk to other people about cycling, particularly women, I get the same story – they just don’t feel safe enough on the roads. That really has to change if we're to encourage more people to travel by bike.’

There is evidence to suggest that women's fears might be well founded. In 2007, an internal report for Transport for London concluded that women cyclists are far more likely to be killed by lorries because, unlike men, they tend to obey red lights and wait at junctions in the driver's blind spot.  

Wendy Johnson of Sustrans told BikeRadar: "Feeling nervous about cycling can influence the way people ride. Some women tend to cycle too close to the pavement as they want to stay as far away from traffic as possible. This can be a problem as vehicles may not regard you as part of the traffic flow and don't give the right amount of space. It can have an impact on how other vehicles treat you. It can also impact on confidence as, if they come too close, it makes you feel you can't come out in the road.'

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Wendy added: "The main request [in the survey] was for totally separate cycle lanes, but also a lot of women said they would like more cycle training to be widely available – how to handle a bike in traffic, postioning at traffic lights and the like. 20mph speed limits were also a popular request. This would all add up to women feeling safer on the roads."

Dr Dave Horton, a Lancaster University sociologist, has written a study on the fear of cycling. "Being highly visible in public spaces is something women are going to be less comfortable with than men," he said. "Especially in the road environment in marked areas where people can see you and male drivers can see you."

In recent months the media spotlight has fallen on the UK phenomenon of women cycling less than men. In contrast, in Northern European countries such as Denmark the cycling sexes are in roughly equal proportion.

Darlington Media Group released a short film earlier this year about girls from the Cycling Demonstration Town, comparing their hometown experiences with a trip to Bremen, Germany where cycling is hugely popular with both sexes and all age groups.

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