Gender gap: Less than half as many Scots women cycle regularly as men

Half as many Scots women are cycling regularly compared with men according to new data, leading to claims that active travel policies “don’t work for women in Scotland”.

The figures come from the most recent Walking and Cycling Index produced by the sustainable transport charity, Sustrans. It surveyed people across the UK on their travel habits in 2021, including from seven cities across Scotland

Analysis of the Scottish data by The Ferret found that just 13 per cent of women cycled at least once a week in 2021, compared with 29 per cent of men. In one Scottish city, just eight per cent of women cycled regularly. 

Campaigners blamed “aggressive drivers, unlit cycle routes, and gendered expectations around what we wear” for the low cycling rates among women. The “different needs and experiences of women” need to be considered in “how we plan our public space and travel infrastructure”, they added.

Encouraging more people to cycle is seen as a “fundamental” part of creating a cleaner transport network which can help Scotland achieve its climate goals. It is also viewed as an important way of improving the nation’s physical and mental health

Measures like gender budget analysis are vital to make sure that we are considering the different needs and experiences of women in how we plan our public space and travel infrastructure.

Alys Mumford, communications and engagement manager at Engender

The Scottish Government has pledged “record levels of funding” for active travel schemes, including to increase the number of people using bikes instead of cars for local journeys.  

But as the Sustrans survey reveals, cycling is not currently perceived as safe or accessible to everyone, particularly women. 

Inverness had the highest levels of regular cycling by women in Scotland, with 20 per cent of women in the Highland city getting on a bike at least once a week. At the other end of the spectrum was Dundee, where only 8 per cent of women cycle regularly. 

Glasgow had the biggest discrepancy between the number of men and women cycling, with 31 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women regularly using a bike. 

Cycling at least once a week (%)

Source: Sustrans

The trend of men cycling more than women was also borne out in the rest of the UK. Across Britain as a whole, 23 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women cycle once a week. 

It is not repeated in other European countries, however. In Germany and Denmark women cycle as much as men, while in the Netherlands the gender split is the other way around, with women making up 55 per cent of all cycling trips. 

According to Alys Mumford, communications and engagement manager at the feminist campaign group, Engender, cycling infrastructure in Scotland is not currently “designed for the journeys women need to make”.

“Active travel policies don’t work for women. Aggressive drivers, unlit cycle routes, and gendered expectations around what we wear all contribute to these figures,” Mumford told The Ferret. 

“Measures like gender budget analysis are vital to make sure that we are considering the different needs and experiences of women in how we plan our public space and travel infrastructure.”

“We need bike lanes to be wide enough for bike trailers, segregated from traffic to allow children to cycle safely, and actually going to the places people need them to.”

Safety may be among the reasons why women are discouraged from cycling.

Sustrans Scotland’s head of strategic partnerships, Dr Lee Muir, argued that women in Scotland are discouraged from cycling because of “concerns about safety”. 

Muir said: “In Scotland, 39 per cent of women think cycling safety in their local area is good. Most women feel that if they had safer cycling infrastructure, then they would cycle more frequently and they would feel more confident cycling. 

“There is so much potential for more women to cycle — the Index findings show that 30 per cent of women in Scotland overall said that they ‘do not cycle but would like to’.”

Who is likely to cycle?

The Sustrans survey also looked at levels of cycling among other demographic groups. 

Disabled people were less likely to cycle regularly in all of Scotland’s cities than non-disabled people. In Dundee and Aberdeen, just eight and nine per cent of disabled people were cycling at least once a week, respectively. 

People were also more likely to cycle if they had a higher socioeconomic status. In Aberdeen, Dundee and Stirling just ten per cent of people in the lowest socioeconomic group cycled regularly. 

The Scottish Greens transport spokesperson, Mark Ruskell, said that investment was needed if Scotland wants to “realise the health and environmental benefits” which come with more people cycling.

Ruskell added: “While it is encouraging that many more people decided to travel by bike during the pandemic, it is clear that as traffic returned to pre-pandemic levels many reverted to other modes of transport.

“Unfortunately many people simply, and completely understandably, don’t feel that it’s safe to ride on the road alongside cars and lorries. With Greens working cooperatively in government we’ve secured the biggest ever investment in walking, wheeling, and cycling infrastructure.”

A spokesperson for Transport Scotland — which oversees active travel policies on behalf of the Scottish Government — said that getting more people involved in cycling was “key to continuing Scotland’s revolution” in transport. 

They said: “We fund this research from Sustrans to understand and respond to barriers — and what’s clear from the latest index is that perceptions around safety remain paramount.

“To make cycling safer and ensure people feel confident, delivering segregated infrastructure is essential. Funding for active travel in Scotland is now at record levels of £150m in 2022-23. 

Both Sustrans and Transport Scotland also pointed out that they are behind a campaign aimed at empowering young female cycling ambassadors in schools, colleges and youth groups to help get more young women cycling.

Photo credit: iStock/Solovyova

  1. No wonder women don’t cycle as there are no cycle lanes particularly in busy areas of Scotland such as Speyside, an example being the area of Rothes.
    There is NO dedicated wide cycle path away from the very busy road from Elgin to Aberlour compared to provision of the wide cycle path from Lossiemouth to Elgin or Forres to Kinloss.
    Cycling along these busy roads is a recipe for death as heavy lorries bound for the distilleries,forestry or supermarkets are dangerous to be next to, as they suck you and your bicycle inwards!

  2. Lack of safe cycling infrastructure and aggressive drivers are the obvious reasons which are preventing many people taking up cycling.
    Having started a new job my daughter is looking at somewhere new to live – it’s proving impossible to find anywhere that would enable her to safely walk or cycle to work because the only off-road route is secluded and unlit. There are no bike lanes on the roads.
    So long as we’re stuck with disconnected bike lanes that aren’t fit for purpose cycling will remain the preserve of the brave.
    In the long-term we need a properly connected network of fit-for-purpose infrastructure.
    in the short-term Police Scotland need to take aggressive behaviour by drivers much more seriously than they currently do.

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