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Safety means safe from gender and traffic-based violence 

In 2015, Parramatta-based bicycle entrepreneur, Charlene Bordley, saw the need for an inclusive women's bicycle group and found a way to combine her passion for bike riding and women’s safety. Starting with a core group of 10 mothers at Hilltop Road Public School, with support from Bicycle NSW, Her Cycling Connections was formed. Now, in 2023 the notion of designing streets that are safe for women is international best practice. The Safer Cities Program across NSW plans to improve perceptions of safety for women and girls when walking and riding in public spaces by 2024. This will be done through lighting up the dark spaces and improving connected pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Women’s safety and bike riding exists in a paradox- Women, girls and LGBTI groups have found cycling to be safer than walking in certain areas and at certain times for reasons often invisible to men,

“When I ‘became a cyclist’ … I felt liberated from street harassment. I was never still long enough for someone to try to harass me and even if I were, I could get away so much more quickly on two wheels.” Urban design expert, Tiffany Lam.

But due to lack of dedicated bicycle infrastructure there is a gap in perceived and actual safety which translates to five times more men riding for transport than women.

Members of the Sydney Cycle Sisters group participating in Heart Foundation Gear Up Girl event in 2016 (Source: The Weekly Times)

Gear up Girl participants. (Photo courtesy of Australian Muslim Times)

“Last week I decided to commute 3 days by bike from Doonside to Blacktown,” an ugly, hazardous ride. Charlene Bordley.

“I would ride more if it was safer, and that’s what we hear every day from women.” 

It is an absolute fact that with dedicated bicycle infrastructure, more women ride. In Copenhagen, for instance, female cyclists outnumber men because, just as in Australia, women tend to trip chain or take multiple trips in the course of their day. Studies have found that more Australian women would ride if it was safer to do so, 

“If I can’t feel safe, as a professional instructor, how can I encourage migrant mums to do the same, when they’re totally new to cycling.” Charlene Bordley.

The real Hilltop Hoods! And not a thread of Lycra to be seen – at an Addventageous training session (Source: Addventageous)

The riding group and not a thread of Lycra to be seen – at an Addventageous training session

If you’re a woman considering bicycle riding for transport, fitness, fun, economy, and convenience there is a big upside-

The Bicycle NSW team can verify that you are way less likely to have an accident than men and, if you do, it’s unlikely to be serious. We do recommend that you join your local Bicycle User Group for support, fun and connections to great rides and events, and get insured.

Her Cycling Connections offers women and girls empowerment through inclusive, fun activities, mentoring, and personal development. For several participants, it has been a lifeline out of domestic violence and into social and financial independence.    

Cities built for women and girls benefit everyone 

Safe to ride because pedestrians and bikes come first, (Mikael Coleville-Anderson)

Safe to ride because pedestrians and bikes come first, (Mikael Coleville-Anderson)

Because when cities are designed without women in mind, you just get cars rushing everywhere and really bad toilets. When the streets are safe enough to encourage women and girls to ride, then it encourages everyone else (the 48% interested but concerned) to do the same. With 20-25% C02 emissions from 2 million+ daily car trips under 2 kms, the planet depends on more women and girls riding for utility. 

Nice words and policies from the NSW Government are not going to cut it

Not without action. This is why we’re urging everyone to join the Better Streets Coalition. We can wait 1000 years (a conservative guess) at the time it will take for policies and strategies prioritising pedestrians and cyclists to fairly reallocate roadspace. In fact, Better streets aims to commission such a study to expose the inaction. So watch this space!

Or we can collectively influence decision makers through a broad-based coalition. Action is so much better than whining! And fun- check our election webpage. Join Bicycle NSW for better infrastructure (and insurance) and get on board with Better Streets.

Better streets = safe paths to school. (Photo courtesy of Her Cycling Connections)

Better streets = safe paths to school, Photo courtesy of Her Cycling Connections

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