WABA’s Jesse Cohn Tells the Story Behind the Women’s Bicycling Forum
This post is part of the WABA Women Bicycling Project, an ongoing campaign to create a community, share resources and develop strategies for getting more women on bikes. To read about the project so far, check out Quick Release, the WABA blog. To learn more and sign up to receive emails about this project, click here. My name is Jesse Cohn, I am currently the Women’s Outreach and Advocacy Intern at WABA, and I am both a woman and an avid cyclist. I ride for transportation and for exercise, and often just to explore. Completing two cross-country trips in the past four years, I have ridden over 10,000 miles in my lifetime. And while this means that I know a lot about what it means to be a woman bicyclist, there is still a lot that I didn’t know before coming into this position. I have experienced few barriers to bicycling, as I am a fit, fearless, single, childless woman. I live a mile from where I work and only a few blocks from my local supermarket. I have a lot of experience riding a bicycle in a city. I don’t need to dress up for work, I am lucky enough to have access to showers and indoor bicycle parking in my office, and the weather has been surprisingly agreeable since I moved to Washington in September. Oh, and I already own a bicycle and a helmet. So while I came into this position with some expectations of the barriers women find to riding in DC, I had very little experience with challenging and overcoming them. I began this project by researching what had already been done to promote women cycling around the country. I found several disparate efforts–scattered “women’s only” rides and events–as many places had, similarly to DC, just recently begun to investigate this gender gap. I conceived of the Women’s Bicycling Forum as a way to jumpstart a conversation about this huge topic, bringing together a group of women to discuss the barriers and brainstorm the solutions. The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals formed the Women’s Cycling Project to generate discussion and share approaches to encourage more women and girls to bicycle for everyday transportation. The conversation has started on the national level, but it hasn’t yet been comprehensively or publicly addressed in our region. That is my job. Not daunting at all, right? I’ve spent the past few months reaching out to different local women involved in transportation to learn their perspective on cycling in the region. In each conversation I heard personal barriers and frustrations to riding locally, as well as potential solutions to overcoming these barriers. While many of these conversations struck similar chords, each of them brought unique perspectives to the broader discussion of women and bicycling. My conversations with these women have been invaluable and I respect them all immensely. They come from varying professional backgrounds–working in planning, advocacy, policy, and bicycle shops, just to name a few–and I am eager to see them discuss these issues and their solutions with one another at the Women’s Bicycling Forum. I am extremely grateful to them for agreeing to participate and for bringing their perspectives and their stories to share with all of you. This meeting of the minds is a first step towards increasing the number of women who chose to cycle in the region. Not only will the Women’s Bicycling Forum produce recommendations for WABA to increase female ridership, but this project has also brought the issue of the bicycling gender gap into each of the separate corners of the transportation world where each of these women work. Hopefully, it will also give people the chance to get their questions answered and maybe, just maybe, it will be the bicycling catalyst for a few people to start riding. I hope you are all as excited for the Women’s Bicycling Forum as I am, and I hope to see you there!