WABA Packs the House with Women’s Bicycling Forum

By Carolyn S on December 14, 2011

imageAccording to 2009 data, women account for just 24 percent of bicyclists in the U.S. But, on Monday night, female cyclists of all ages and abilities packed the house for a new event hosted by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

An innovative evening of collective brainstorming, the Women’s Bicycling Forum convened nine female panelists who shared their bicycle stories and discussed ideas to close the gender gap. Nearly 80 ladies showed up to observe the lively conversation among the diverse bicycling “experts” and toss in their two cents on the timely and important topic.

The forum was the brainchild of Jesse Cohn, WABA’s Women’s Outreach and Advocacy Intern, a new position the organization created this fall. I had the pleasure of meeting with Cohn as she interviewed a number of women in the DC region about what keeps ladies from getting on bikes and how we can convert the large pool of interested-but-concerned riders. I cited some of the work of other Alliance member organizations, like the new Family Biking Guide produced by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the “Women on Wheels” bicycle education classes offered by Marin County Bicycle Coalition.

For Cohn, the one-on-one insight was a prelude to a more public conversation. As she noted on the WABA blog: “I conceived of the Women’s Bicycling Forum as a way to jumpstart a conversation about this huge topic, bringing together a group of women to discuss the barriers and brainstorm the solutions.”

At least in DC, women are clearly hungry for that discussion; the response was so fast and furious WABA had to claim a bigger room in the West End Library.

To kick off the evening, Cohn set the statistical stage, noting that DC is actually a leading city when it comes to gender parity; more than 30 percent of area cyclists are women. But that pales in comparison to countries like Denmark and the Netherlands where the split is 50-50 — or higher. “We can aim for that one-to-one ratio,” Cohn said. “It is possible.”

That sentiment was shared by the panel, which included:

The conversation and interaction among the panelists was both engaging and inspiring as they spoke truthfully and passionately about their experiences and ideas. The energy was palpable and WABA captured some of the choice quotes with their live Twitter feed from the event.

Just one of the comments that earned an audible amen from the crowded room came from Tracy Hadden Loh: “This is a movement that’s almost totally led by white men,” she said. That certainly sounded familiar to me.

In 2010, at the Alliance Leadership Retreat, a number of female advocates came together as a Women’s Caucus, and addressing the perception and reality of a male-dominated movement was one of the key issues that drove the discussion. We already knew we weren’t the only ones who considered this an important topic. The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals had just completed its Women’s Cycling Survey — and garnered insight from 13,000 women across the U.S.

The consensus at the informal Caucus was clear: We need to create a stronger network of female leaders by providing a venue where we can discuss our experiences, share best practices and get more women involved in the movement. Since then, I’ve been working with a number of advocates and Kit Keller, the executive director of APBP, to create just such a space that centralizes knowledge and fosters community among women bicyclists.

Stay tuned in coming weeks for ways you can get involved in the Women’s Cycling Project. In the meantime, read more about the Women’s Bicycling Forum on the WABA blog.

Photo credit: WABA

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