“We’ve learnt to normalise and ignore rubbish behaviour,” says Eilidh Murray, the chair of trustees for the London Cycling Campaign, whose ability to ignore rubbish behaviour has been put to the test throughout the two decades she’s spent riding her bike on the roads of the capital.
“You just keep on going, but you shouldn’t have to. We’ve developed that resilience over time, but someone who cycles for the first time may just give up if they experience that type of abuse,” concurs Women’s Network member Kate Bartlett.
Kate and Eilidh are speaking to the road.cc Podcast just weeks after the London Cycling Campaign and the Women’s Network – a coalition which includes the LCC, along with members from JoyRiders and Londra Bisiklet Kulübü – released the findings of a survey of over 1,000 women which explored their experiences of cycling in London and the barriers in place that currently discourage or prevent more women from riding their bikes.
The results were alarming – and thoroughly depressing.
The report, titled ‘What stops women cycling in London?’ detailed the shocking extent to which women riding their bikes in the capital face a barrage of verbal and physical abuse, sexual harassment, and intimidation from motorists and other road users.
Of the 10,000 women surveyed, nine out of ten said they’d experienced abuse while riding their bikes, and almost 80 per cent said this gendered harassment and intimidation – including the intimidatory use of motor vehicles – happened at least once a month, with one in five revealing that it had made them give up cycling, either temporarily or permanently.
According to the report, which was accompanied by a hard-hitting video that has so far garnered over 700,000 views online, “get off the road” was by far the most common form of verbal abuse aimed at women who cycle, while taunts of “bitch” and “slut”, unsolicited photos and sexual comments, groping or slapping when stopped at traffic lights, and accusations of poor parenting when cycling with children were also appallingly prevalent.
“We hit a rich seam of shocking experiences. We knew they’d be bad, but we never knew about the quantity of them until the report came out,” Eilidh tells road.cc during a wide-ranging discussion about the report’s findings, the gendered abuse and aggression directed towards female cyclists on a shockingly prevalent basis, how anti-cycling and more general misogynist behaviour can overlap, and why such behaviour has the potential to be “normalised” by those on the receiving end of it.
“After hearing stories like that, what I take as everyday activity is pretty intimidating for people,” says Kate. “And having done the survey and seen the results, I re-examined my daily experiences, which made me think ‘yeah, that was appalling what that person did today!’”
But how can we make cycling in London a safe, inclusive space for women? Kate and Eilidh have two clear answers: infrastructure and education.
With the lack of protected infrastructure a common thread among the survey’s findings – prompting many women to note that they are often put off cycling by the prospect of riding on unsafe, busy roads or equally unsafe, dimly lit off-road routes – the cycling campaigners argue that safe, joined-up infrastructure that focuses on the needs of women is essential to encourage more to cycle.
“People who design cycle lanes and roads and traffic management tend to be male. And they’re looking at things through a male lens,” Eilidh says. “Now, if you’re on a bike and you’re a burly bloke, you’re more likely to give as good as you get on the road. But if you’re a woman cycling with children, you’re not going to be as up for a shouting match with two blokes in a van.
“So it’s a very male-dominated area. And we want to look at things through a female lens, not a male lens, and joined-up, decent infrastructure is essential.
“Women cycle locally – they tend to do the childcare, the library, the doctor – and the cycling infrastructure needs to be joined up. There’s no point having a beautiful cycle lane, then you have to go across four lanes of traffic to get to the next safe cycle lane. So, there’s a lot to be done at a local level to encourage women to get on their bikes, it’s not all about the commuter journey.”
“I’d say very close behind that is a really good campaign of communication, education around what’s good, what’s bad in terms of behaviour, the role we all have to play in making people behave correctly, calling out unacceptable behaviour,” Kate adds.
“But infrastructure won’t solve it alone, behaviour change won’t solve it alone, it has to be the two of them together.”
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Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.