Observations of cyclists riding on or adjacent to roads in London Ontario show that less than 25% are females. This presents a problem if ridership is to be increased to combat future global climate change.

Results from several observational studies by Gorski Consulting show that there are far fewer females riding bicycles than males in London, Ontario. The results of three different studies are consistent with this conclusion. The studies involved the following:

  1. Observations of cyclists riding on or adjacent to a roadway in London between 2013 and 2020.
  2. Observations of cyclists riding on, or adjacent to Dundas Street between Highbury and Clarke.
  3. Observations of cyclists using the Thames Valley Parkway in London.

The results of these studies are summarized below.

Observations of Cyclists Riding on or Adjacent to a roadway in London Between 2013 and 2020.

In this study 1351 cyclists were observed riding throughout the City of London. In 66 of these observations  the gender of the rider could not be identified. Of the remaining 1285 cyclists, 1091 were male and 194 were female. This results in a percentage of female riders of just 15.1%.

This view shows a male cyclist riding westbound along Dundas Street between Highbury Ave and Clarke Road in July of 2016. Riding within the right lane is dangerous to cyclists who must share the lane with motor vehicle traffic. This is likely why so many cyclists chose to ride on the sidewalk even through they are prohibited from doing so.

Observations of Cyclists Riding on, or Adjacent to, Dundas Street Between Highbury Ave & Clarke Road, 2018 to 2020, in East London.

This study, involving a small sample of 58 riders, was conducted along the four-lane arterial roadway of Dundas Street where there is no infrastructure to accommodate cyclists. This roadway also contains many heavy trucks and buses. It can be described as a road segment that is dangerous for cyclist use. Observations of cyclists were made between the years 2018 and 2020. In 8 instances the gender of the cyclist was unknown. In the remaining 50 observations there were 5 female and 45 male riders were observed, resulting in percentage of female observations of only 11.1%.

This view shows a cyclist crossing Dundas Street west of Clarke Road in London, Ontario on May 17, 2013. Gorski Consulting has made observations of cyclists along this segment of Dundas due to its lack of cycling infrastructure yet high motor-vehicle traffic volume.

Observations of Cyclists Riding on London’s Thames Valley  Parkway (TVP) in July, 2021

In four videotaping sessions comprising 9 hours of observations 333 cyclists were observed riding on the Thames Valley Parkway in London in July of 2021. Eighty (80) of these  riders were females, while 253 were males. This results in a female rider percentage of 24.0%.

The Thames Valley Parkway in London Ontario is an extremely busy location for cyclist and pedestrian travel in the vicinity of Springbank Park in west London. Preventing conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians is a continuous challenge in this area.

Even less-travelled portions of the Thames Valley Parkway such as this location east of Wellington Road, can present dangers from immovable objects close to the trail edge.

Combined Results of All Three Studies

When the observations of all three studies are combined this represents a total of 1742 observations. In 74 instances the rider’s gender was unknown.  For the remaining 1668 observations where the gender was known there were 283 female riders and 1486 males. Thus the percentage of female riders was 17.0%.

Discussion

These results show that, in London, Ontario, there is a low number of females who ride bicycles. We need to understand that our commitment to increase ridership of cycles is extremely important. Reduced carbon emissions go hand-in-hand with cycling by removing our society’s dependency on fossil fuels. And this is critically important in reducing the effects of climate change. Factors that prevent our society from engaging in active transportation need to be identified and understood. This cannot be done in the next decade or century. It needs to be done now. Since half the world’s population is comprised of females, their lack of participation in cycling can have a large effect on the success of our transition to more climate-friendly activities. While London, Ontario is a small fish in this large ocean, observations of cyclists in London may provide important clues about how we need to make adjustments to achieve our global goals.

Why cyclists would chose to be fined for riding on the sidewalk is exemplified in this photo of a cycling club riding on the west sidewalk of Clarke Road north of Dundas on June 5, 2013. The presence of large vehicles such as this city transit bus makes it dangerous for cyclists to share the same lane.

The issues of rider safety and convenience often come up in discussion but there is insufficient, independent, public data that can be used to  advance the discussion beyond subjective opinion. The possibility that safety and convenience could be factors in reduced cycling by females could be demonstrated through conducting studies such as those by Gorski Consulting. Although Gorski Consulting has never received any public funds we have been successful in producing some revealing studies.

The small number of female cyclists becomes even smaller when we examine riders during the winter months. Observations of cyclists were conducted during the winter months of December through March in the years 2013-20.  This is a subset of the  observations made above. A total of  291 observations were made. In 15 instances the gender of the cyclist could not be determined. For the remaining 274 observations where gender was known, 257 were male while only 19 were female, resulting in a percentage of female riders of 6.9%.

Not all cyclists view winter conditions as exhilarating. While riding cycles that are not equipped to ride in snow cyclists can be easily discouraged with the inconveniences.

The possibility that safety is a concern is suggested by the small sample of cyclists observed on Dundas Street between Highbury Ave and Clarke Road. This four-lane arterial roadway contains no infrastructure for cyclist travel yet the segment’s traffic volume is approximately 22 to 28,000 AADT. Of those cyclists who were observed travelling straight along this road segment, 11 were observed to ride in the curb lane near the right curb. Alternatively 32 cyclists were observed to be riding on the sidewalk. Thus approximately 75% of the observed cyclists were seen riding on the sidewalk even though City bi-laws prohibit riders over the age of 18 from doing so. Concerns with safety are likely the reasons why cyclists would ride on the sidewalk even through they may be ticketed by London Police.

Thus concerns with safety and lack of convenience are likely factors that contribute to the lack of cycle ridership by females but more data needs to be assembled to provide better clarity on this issue.