Getting from here to there: Boosting women’s participation in bicycling through adult bicycle skills training.

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Social Practice Theory
Behaviour change
Mixed methods

Increasing bicycling in cities is a public health and sustainability goal. Although supportive infrastructure is a necessary precondition for most people to begin riding, other forms of encouragement are also needed to spur uptake across populations. Women are an important target group as they participate in bicycling at roughly one-third the rate of men. While much is known on the importance of a safe, dense, and well- connected bikeway network, there are knowledge gaps on ‘soft’ interventions related to training or education. Questions remain on the effectiveness of bicycle skills training, how trainings interact with the bikeway network, and, given the bicycling gender disparity, the role training has on supporting women’s participation. To address these gaps, this dissertation assessed the impact of a bicycle training course in encouraging participation among new and returning bicyclists, and the broader processes that enabled bicycling for women of diverse backgrounds. Weaving together behaviour change theory and gender frameworks, the longitudinal mixed methods study drew on questionnaire and interview data from Metro Vancouver, Canada—a region promoting bicycling and extending its bicycle infrastructure. The dissertation found that training facilitated only modest short-term increases in leisure bicycling. Other elements of the social and physical environment did not support a full variety of journeys to be made by bicycle, and these elements were more influential than individual attributes such as skill or knowledge. Nevertheless, training provided a safe environment to improve handling skill, learn traffic rules and safety, or reinforce pre-existing knowledge. Training enabled some participants to bicycle in more challenging conditions, thus enhancing their bicycling mobility. Policy recommendations derived from this work include: bold expansion of the bikeway network; more intensive training and practice sessions for new and returning riders; broader outreach to clarify bicycling norms and etiquette; education for drivers; and integrating a gender lens into bicycle planning. By applying a novel integration of gender and social practice theoretical frameworks to examine the impact of an intervention on an under-studied population of new and returning bicyclists, this dissertation contributes both new evidence and new conceptual insights to theory and practice of bicycling in cities.

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Meghan Winters
Health Sciences: Faculty of Health Sciences
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.