Female Workplace Participation as a Precondition for Political Will for Safe Cycling

While  my lacklustre colleagues in the bike planning world go around singing “all you need is political will” in strains recalling some nauseating song by the Beatles’s I have been examining the preconditions for political will. (The preconditions for love are the male’s earnings and the woman’s hip to waist ratio, but you knew that).

Political Will (P) for safe cycling networks can be found using this equation: P = F(D+W)/M, where

  • F = flatness
  • D = density (as a percentage of Manhattan’s)
  • W = percentage of women in the workforce, and
  • M = percentage of population within walking distance of the Metro.

Dense cities with women working, provided they’re flat and don’t have great metros, will have the greatest political will for safe cycling networks.

That’s the first time I have mentioned such an equation, and no, it hasn’t been published in any peer reviewed journals. It is no more scientific than the Copenhagen Index and, like it, should only be used for discussion purposes and fooling the press. Onward.


  • F = 100% (it’s 100% flat)
  • D = 15%  (it’s 15% as dense as Manhattan)
  • W = 58% (percentage of women are in the workforce)
  • M = 20% (percentage of the population is walking distance of the rather scant metro).

P = 100(15+58)/20.  P = 515.


  • F = 70%
  • D = 30%
  • W = 34% (at least that was the case in 1992)
  • M = 50%

P=70(34+50)/50. P=117.

And that is why there is more political will for cycling in Amsterdam

But Spain’s female workforce participation rate has leapt since 1992, to 53%. The only other country where that has happened is Ireland, where we are likewise seeing a huge jump in political will for safe cycling networks, for example in Dublin and Galway that now have bike modal shares of 5.9% and 4.9% respectively. According to my formula Spain’s higher percentage of women now working takes Barcelona’s political will score to 144.

Any questions about the equation? Low density cities have space for cars, so unless they’re dirt poor (and I don’t expect anyone would try to make my equation work for the 3rd world), they use cars. Only someone with an eBike to sell you would say hills aren’t a huge factor in cycling becoming mainstream. The importance of Metro coverage is most clearly illustrated in Manhattan: you can have every other precondition but if everyone’s commute can be pushed underground, the streets will be owned by millionaire widows in taxis.

The only one you may be scratching your head about still is the the female workforce participation rate. It’s simple. Societies who keep their women at home welcome dangerous commuting for the accelerative effect it has on natural selection. A million years from now every Italian will have the motorcycling handling skills of Valentino Rossi and each woman will be able to have 20 children within her lifetime—that’s assuming female workforce participation in Italy stays around 40%. Societies who send their women to work, need to look after their wombs. If they can’t get them to work safely in cars or in trains, political will rises for safe cycling conditions. Without the woman worker factor, people are happy for streets to be dominated by dangerous mopeds.

Barcelona and Amsterdam are interesting to compare, because Barcelona is shifting more toward cycling from a base condition of motor scootering, while Amsterdam is heading the opposite way. Why? Because Barcelona is witnessing a huge rise in women’s workplace participation, and Amsterdam is witnessing a huge rise in workplace participation among ethnic minorities that leave their women at home. I’m sorry if saying that means I’m playing right into the hands of Geert Wilders, but that’s the simple fact of the matter. Spend a day on Amsterdam’s bike paths, especially on routes that connect ghettos, and you will think it is rutting season and motor scooter handlebars are the horns of the deer. The macho dare devils, their women at home, and le petite bourgeoisie who don’t wish to offend them, will let motorbikes take over Amsterdam’s bike paths, while Barcelona goes on building bike paths for bikes. It will be interested to see if one day some cities trade mantles.

Barcelona: Amsterdam of the Future



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