People who are involved with transport politics are continuously confronted with the issue of safety. Bike lanes are rejected, supposedly because of safety, while others demand them for exactly the same reasons. Cycling on the road is recommended by some as being safer, while others strongly reject such use for exactly the same reasons.
In discussions around cycle transportation, so-called „objective safety“ is pitted against a subjective sense of safety and comfort. In the Netherlands “sustainable safety” is recommended, Copenhagen prioritises „subjective safety.“ And now there’s a new version, the “Protected Bike Lane.“ This starts sounding somewhat complicated, so we need to clarify: What is being discussed? Who is saying what about safety, and why?
„The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of middle and upper class women then all the struggles of the womens’ movement“.So wrote the Austrian authoress and feminist Rosa Mayreder (1858-1938).
The first female cyclists came from wealthy families, taking the opportunity to get away from their restrictive circumstances. In Bremen there were Ricarda Huch and Aline von Kapff, who fought for their freedom from the saddle of their bicycles more than 100 years ago.
Women cycle differently
But if we think cycling is gender-neutral, we are wrong. A majority of women cycle in a more defensive way,requiring more security. Meanwhile, if we look at what has been done for Bremen cyclists in recent years, it appears that cycling policy has evolved for young, male, fast cyclists. Some of them might like cycling on the road more than on a cycle path, but to do so requirescourage and speed. Slow cyclists, or indeed more anxious people, don’t enjoy mixing with cars on the road. It is seen as dangerous, and certainly some car drivers see cyclists as an obstacle, of which they try to get rid of by hassling them and blowing their horns.
A British study comes out with the same results: „Women seem to be more vulnerable, maybe because they are less likely to claim the car lane and thus hug the kerb. In the year 2009 10 of 13 killed cyclists in London were women, 8 of these killed by left-turning lorries.“
Bremen seems not to be interested in womens’ wishes
Despite this, traffic planners in Bremen fail to consider thevarying needs of cyclists, be it children, elderly people or women. Recently built cycling infrastructure in Bremen is geared to the young, sporty (mostly male) cyclist, who likes to mix with cars without any worries. More and more women protest, pointing out that they don’t want to cycle on specific roads.
Fahrradstraße (cycle street) Parkallee in one of these: illegal parking narrows the space and loads of non residential car drivers speed through it. Cyclists are overtaken ignoring the necessary distance of 1,50m and they suffer from motorists who hassle them, blow their horns and shout at them. A similar problem is the Humboldtstraße, also a so-called cycle street: Bremen tends to develop „cycle streets light“, quite the contrary to the diligently developed cycle streets of the first years, in the 1980s. This has a lot to do with Bremen’s cycling advocates, who still today argue for vehicular cycling on the road.
A new development is a „green wave“ for cyclists. But it is planned at a speed of 18 km/h – most women though cycle more slowly. The idea behind it is good, the way it is done is once again „light-headed“.
Transport planning needs to be more feminine
A successful gender mainstreaming in the transport sector is a sign of quality for planners and politicians – given how household structures develop and new life styles emerge. But if we want a just transport plan we need to look at the needs of all traffic members. It is ridiculous that planning for cycling tends to forget the majority – the women – and their needs. Transport planning needs to be more feminine. We need more space, security, no anxieties, equal rights and a gentle working together.
Sunday night on the way home from the swimming pool my 8 year old daughter and I were almost run over by a car turning left into the crosswalk where we were (legally!) crossing the street.
Unfortunately we experience similar situations several times a week, since traffic enforcement in Bremen is dying out, and frustrated car drivers take their aggression out on the “weak.” This incident occurred at the intersection of Kirchweg and Kornstrasse in the Neustadt, just seconds away from our front door.
Fahrradstraßen – Cycle Streets – are seen, alongside cycle lanes, cycle tracks, protective strips and more, as a tool to promote cycling. The basic concept – according to Germany’s road traffic regulations – is a road without motor traffic: Continue reading Cycle Streets: Do content and label match?→
Jan Gehl – Architect, Urban Planner, Visionary and Humanist
Jan Gehl is an experienced architect and urban planner from Copenhagen with a very special view on his environment. Today he has become something of a patron for pedestrians and cyclists. Continue reading Jan Gehl – Cities for People→
The Neustadt, a densely populated district of Bremen on the south bank of the river Weser, is described in official literature as offering quiet streets with charming old houses. However, like so many other such areas, the charm is cursed by the demands of the car and its proponents. So when we, a group of local residents took the initiative to try to calm their streets, the hope was that the local authority – with a Green Party senator running the transport department – would look kindly on our efforts, but the reaction was the absolute opposite. Continue reading Out of the Blue→