ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #24: Herbie Huff and Kelcie Ralph on Women and Cycling

I have never had the pleasure of meeting Herbie Huff or Kelcie Ralph. The bios say that Huff is a research associate at UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Institute for Transportation Studies. Kelcie Ralph is a PhD candidate in transportation policy and planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. I didn’t find a web page for Ms. Ralph, but I did find her Twitter feed (@KMRalph) where she discusses her research and practice interests.

Huff and Ralph have a piece up over at The Gaurdian Cities called “The Reason why fewer US women cycle than the Dutch is not what you think it is.” Now, these titles are always dumb click-bait, and authors are never the ones writing such silliness. Because how could they know what reasons I am thinking about? Because my guess was actually right. But I am expert ;^). However, they didn’t cite my paper on the subject in the working paper on which this summary is based. Shocking! [grasps pearls] Kids today.

But I digress.

You are supposed to guess that that the reason women in the US bike less than women in Dutch cities is all the biking infrastructure the Dutch have, and even though the Guardian was fishing for clicks with that title, I’ve seen multiple instances online where people throw pouty fits because they think that the research doesn’t validate their religious zeal about differences in infrastructure being the only difference that matters. However, if you actually read the article, the authors do not dispute the role of biking infrastructure supply as a key difference between Dutch and American contexts. Instead, they use time activity data to show that American women still do a disproportionate amount of household work, and they work more hours at paid work, than their Dutch counterparts:

Dutch women can use bikes to get around because they are less pressed for time than American women, in three fundamental ways. First, thanks to family-friendly labour policies like flexitime and paternity leave, Dutch families divide childcare responsibilities much more evenly than American families. Second, work weeks in the Netherlands are shorter. One in three Dutch men and most Dutch women work part-time, and workers of either gender work fewer hours than Americans.

Lastly, Dutch parents do much less chauffeuring of children and elderly family members than American parents. Neighborhood schools and high-quality bike infrastructure in the Netherlands make it easy for Dutch kids to walk or bike to school, unlike their counterparts in America, where rates of bicycling and walking to school have been declining for decades. Dutch elderly are also much more independently mobile than their American counterparts.

Gosh, it’s almost like social policy can help improve lives or something, and that maybe design isn’t the whole story all the time, everywhere?

The authors recognize that design contributes to all of the factors they isolate: better design can enable children to make trips without being driven, and better design also means that travel for all errands could potentially gobble up less time, and they give design its due the report. But come on: screaming and yelling that the focus always has to be on design takes the focus off differences between men and women and how women’s oppression is tied to different amounts of work. I’m sure moving that focus off difference serves somebody, but it’s not likely women. Beyond that, it muddies how design exists in social contexts, and that just makes for bad planning and policy.

One thing I would like to know more about are differences among women. Both Dutch cities and American cities have significant populations of women of color and women from global immigration, and their differences in household and workforce status, along with differences in helping networks, strike me as being potentially quite interesting. Perhap it is in the working paper, which haven’t read yet.