Women are considered an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities for several reasons. First, studies across disciplines as
disparate as criminology and child rearing have shown that women are more
averse to risk than men. In the cycling arena, that risk aversion translates
into increased demand for safe bike infrastructure as a prerequisite for
riding. Women also do most of the child care and household shopping, which means these bike routes need to be organized around practical urban destinations to make a difference.
Clearly, there are many exceptions to these generalizations, and many women are neither risk-averse nor taking children in tow. But in
American cities without safe, well-defined biking infrastructures, men tend to
bike a lot more. In most of New York City, for example, the ratio of male to
female cyclists is three to one (though it should be noted that along the
car-free greenbelts of Central Park, women make up 44 percent of riders).
In European cities, on the other hand, where the infrastructure exists, the split is more even—in the Netherlands, where a lot of cycling takes place, women actually make up 55 percent of the ridership.
This idea of women as indicators is fascinating and I cannot argue with it when I compare the male to female cyclist ratio in my city.