How can our streets and neighbourhoods welcome women?

Women’s walking needs

Victoria’s growing physical and mental health costs mean it is essential Victorians are physically active and for many women, walking is more appealing than organised sport. Populating neighbourhood streets with walkers will result in safer, more social towns and suburbs. Developing neighbourhood walking routes that specifically target women will support them to walk more often. This involves planning and delivering routes that are relevant to their everyday lives with things like shops, services, schools, community facilities andspaces. Some identified walking routes will need small infrastructure improvements to ensure they are safe and convenient.

Victoria Walks, Getting Victorians back on their feet
Image credit: Victoria Walks, Getting Victorians back on their feet
Image credit: Victoria Walks, Getting Victorians back on their feet

Women’s cycling needs

Hear from Angela Brett, making a submission in support of cycling infrastructure to Christchurch City Council – the same issues apply in Yarra.

Almost everywhere around the globe, cycling is dominated by men. In the Netherlands however, the cycling modal share for women in 2017 was 28% while for men it was 26%. Out of 10 bike trips made, 5.5 trips are made by women.

Women of ITE Sub-Committee

The following section is from Women of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Sub-Committee: A number of studies and articles have been written about what women’s needs are, when it comes to cycling for transportation. These needs are:

  • Safety:
    • streets should be safe for people on bikes
    • public space should be considered socially safe, also in evenings or in more deserted locations
  • A positive image:
    • cycling should not be considered an inherently dangerous activity (which may be suitable for reckless men, but not for women)
    • cycling should be acknowledged as a suitable mode of urban transportation, not just for sport
  • Hassle-free:
    • easy access to bicycles in all shapes, sizes and colours (not everyone wants a carbon racing bike)
    • easy access to bicycle accessories like panniers, mudguards, and dress guard (better yet, bicycles that come already fully accessorized)
    • easy access to child seats, shopping trailers and dog trailers, and cargo bikes
  • Proximity:
    • spatial planning can contribute to making more destinations (like schools and shops) within reach for cycling trips
  • Space for practicing in the streets:
    • children who learn to cycle in playgrounds and quiet streets from a young age onwards, should be accommodated to cycle in the streets with their parents to learn about what to anticipate in traffic
    • adults who have not had the opportunity before (most of whom are women), should have the opportunity to learn to cycle

Designing for women

Our street design currently focusses on the car first and places people last. One of the most natural things we could do is reverse that thinking. As a general rule, men drive more than women, but women walk more, so its women who are the higher users of our pedestrian facilities. There must be a change of thinking so that a pedestrian-friendly environment would be created first, and then we could consider how to integrate vehicles into the remaining area. This change of thinking would enable women equitable access to our cities infrastructure. 

Emma McInnes, Urban Designer at Resilio Studio and co-founder of Women in Urbanism Aotearoa
Emma McInnes. Image credit: ACE New Zealand.

A feminist city

A feminist city must be one where barriers—physical and social—are dismantled, where all bodies are welcome and accommodated. A feminist city must be care-centered, not because women should remain largely responsible for care work, but because the city has the potential to spread care work more evenly. A feminist city must look to the creative tools that women have always used to support one another and find ways to build that support into the very fabric of the urban world.

Leslie Kern, writing in Feminist City – Claiming Space in a Man-Made World
Image credit: Verso Books

Guidance from the City of Sydney

Safety is the most common barrier to walking and a leading concern for bike riding overall. 64% of respondents said separated cycleways are a huge factor in helping them feel safe when riding.

On the go: how women travel around our city

Thinking about active transport not only as footpaths, shared paths, bike lanes and separated cycleways, but also as a network of active, well-used and welcoming places, creates opportunities for passive surveillance and helps to create a greater sense of safety.

On the go: how women travel around our city

Every street should be considered part of the walking and cycling network, with the aim of including, at a minimum, a shared walking and cycling path.

On the go: how women travel around our city
Image credit: City of Sydney

Guidance from the Netherlands

Safety is often cited as the sole reason Dutch women cycle more than men. But it’s not that simple. Their fine-grained networks support a wide variety of distances and destinations; accomodating complex, multi-purpose travel patterns outside of the “normal” 9-to-5 commute.

Chris Bruntlett, Dutch Cycling Embassy
Image credit: Chris Bruntlett, Dutch Cycling Embassy


Yarra’s streets can be better for women if we allocate more budget and street space to:

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