Safer streets for active women and girls

Safer streets for active women and girls

By Matt Roebuck

Matt Roebuck is Healthy Place Shaping Partner at Active Oxfordshire

Large group of women cyclists rounding the Plain roundabout in Oxford on The Womens Tour 2021

Next weekend, on 11 June, one of the world’s most prestigious cycling events, The Women’s Tour, comes to Oxfordshire. According to its organisers, it brings with it a safety “bubble with…world class riders at the centre”. Sadly, on a day-to-day basis, many women are put off walking, cycling, wheeling through our county’s public spaces because they do not feel that kind of safety.

Why do women feel unsafe?

In the past 2 years three women have been killed by HGV drivers while cycling in Oxford. This replicates a pattern across the UK of vulnerability on our roads linked to gender. There is anecdotal evidence of women in Oxford reconsidering whether they feel safe to cycle around the city.

It’s not just barriers formed by infrastructure and social issues that prevent women walking and cycling, it’s also the perception of safety.

When children from an East Oxford secondary school were asked recently about what helped them spend time in parks, nearly half replied that “it was easy to get there by myself”. This is an important factor for an age group with no access to a car. But nearly one in three girls said the “place feels safe”, with one in five adding it must be “safe to get there by myself”. Girls gave responses that included perceived safety at a much higher rate than boys.

This cause was taken up by Sheffield organisation Our Bodies, Our Streets which successfully campaigned for Sheffield City Council to pass a motion challenging the “systemic and everyday culture of harassment” that women face on our streets and to address this through evidence-led, co-designed infrastructure.

How do we create safe spaces?

Creating inviting spaces for everyone is not only a question of how we design our streets, but also how we activate those spaces. Barking railway station was transformed by local organisation Street Space through the “collaborative design of planters, seating, artwork and the curation of a programme of lively performances”. These low-cost interventions led to three in four of those people who had previously felt unsafe outside the station to change their perceptions of the area.

Put simply, people make places safe.

But “female-friendly streets” aren’t just about safety, as Melissa and Chris Bruntlett wrote in Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives:

“Although responsibility for care work has shifted…the division of labor continues to rest largely on the shoulders of women…the danger in not considering care work and the trips required to perform it…is that the needs of a significant portion of the population are left unmet…One of the most common characteristics of care trips is they regularly involve a combination of numerous shorter trips and multiple stops [and] our transportation systems are not planned with multiple stops in mind.”

What this means is that when we think of “active travel”, we prioritise cycle-lane commuter routes over everyday family and community-focused travel to parks, schools and community centres, like those enabled by low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs).

It doesn’t have to be like this. In the Netherlands, women aged 65–74 are more likely to cycle than any adult male age category and adult women cycle more than men overall.

What ideas do you have?

Oxfordshire just received a £10.4 million government grant to improve walking and cycling infrastructure in the county. If you’ve got any ideas about how you, or a group you are part of, might help more women and girls to feel confident spending time in and moving through our communities in a more active way, then we may be able to help. Please get in touch at


2 Responses

  1. […] proud that some of our regular riders have decided to train as ride leaders to support other local women to gain confidence on their bikes and discover the same fun and freedom their bikes have given […]

  2. […] year we had the excitement of the Women’s Tour of Britain coming to […]

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