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Let's see more women commuting by bicycle

As a kid, I remember hearing a popular show tune in which a woman sings to a man that anything he can do, she can do better. A small but growing number of girls, including me, were taking science and math classes.

Later, as a young adult, I often saw an advertising slogan telling women that we had come a long way. We were making inroads in traditionally male occupations, becoming more and more visible as bus drivers, firefighters and police officers, even as doctors and lawyers. It truly seemed that the possibilities were unlimited.

So I was a bit surprised to notice in recent years that most of my fellow bike commuters were men. Was it my imagination? Where were the women? I did come across some government statistics that supported my observations, showing a huge gender gap in commuting to work by bike, for both Buffalo and the United States as a whole.

Why might this be true? Are women any less interested in saving the planet? Are they less disturbed about the high cost of gas? I could see no reason to believe that they were. My friend suggested that they might be less physically capable, but a trip to any gym or fitness center shows clearly that at least as many women as men, if not more, want to stay in shape.

Maybe it's the clothes? I have seen male bike commuters dressed in professional clothes and I myself have commuted wearing white pants (I do keep a supply of stain remover at home). So the clothing explanation doesn't fly.

What about the hair? I have seen women riding without a helmet, their freshly washed hair streaming beautifully in the wind. It's too bad they don't use helmets, but it's a good sign that they are out there.

If it's not the planet or personal appearance, perhaps it's that women are constrained by family responsibilities. The last time I checked, women workers were more likely than their male counterparts to have child care issues. Dropping off and picking up a child would indeed complicate the mode of commuting to work. That, I think, is a feasible clue.

And let's not forget the safety issue. Riding a bike in city streets is work. It requires practice to develop good habits, and even then it takes constant vigilance. I have to say, although I have years of experience, I still have the impression that drivers are more likely to take out their annoyance on cyclists in the road if they are women. Correct me if I'm wrong.

One of the biggest mysteries about this gender gap is the reverse situation in Europe. In Denmark and the Netherlands, according to a recent newspaper article, women on bikes far outnumber men. Hmm. I wonder where they buy their clothes. I do know that small carts for carrying children were prevalent, attached to the backs of bicycles that I've seen in Europe, and I know that the safety issue is covered by the multitude of dedicated bike lanes there.

This month is Bike Month. Sunday is International Day of Women's Bicycling and May 18 is Bike to Work Day. I sincerely hope that I will see more women out there on bicycles this year, even if they are just trying it out for the first time. They might find that they can do anything he can do, and they might find that we've come a long way.


Lynn Magdol serves on the City of Buffalo Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Board and on the Board of Citizens for Regional Transit.