10th November 2021

Gender, transport & climate change!


At Civic Engineers, we are always keen to live our values and we have been asking each other about the changes we can make in our own lives to be more climate responsible.

When I think about my own life, I’ve been doing a sustainable commute for years, lately incorporating a school drop-off on foot, a 10-minute joyous cycle ride downhill and a train journey into Leeds. I’ve developed a routine where it’s easier, cheaper and more fun to use active and sustainable modes of travel to get to work. So far, so good.

But then I come to more complex journeys, like the after-school clubs my children attend which we squeeze in between me getting home from work, eating our tea and bedtime. These aren’t long journeys, but there is no feasible way to undertake these trips by any other method than the car. The alternatives would be miserable, or expensive, or too time consuming. The thought of cycling a mile on a dark evening with my 8-year-old daughter is, frankly, terrifying.

According to the National Travel Survey, 26% of trips undertaken are for ‘leisure’ and 19% are for ‘shopping’. And yet we plan our transport networks around commuting, which accounts for only 15% of car journeys.

When we look at gender disaggregated data, men do more commuting, and women do more shopping and escorting children to school. If we shifted our planning to accommodate the more complicated lives of women, we could make these shorter journeys – of which there are so many – safe and attractive to do on foot, or by bike. Imagine the time and carbon saved, not to mention the drop in emissions and reduction of congestion.

We are currently working for Leeds City Council developing projects which will improve those shorter and more local journeys that will undoubtedly benefit women, as well as older and younger people, and vulnerable people, who often don’t have access to cars. A shocking 57% of 11-16 year olds are accompanied to school by a parent, most likely to be their mother. Enabling these young people to travel on their own has multiple benefits: fewer vehicles around school, more time for parents, and an increased confidence for their children as they learn to navigate the world without a car – skills which will contribute to a move away from car dependency. Our schemes in Leeds aim to create cycle routes that will enable young people to access education independently.

Unusually in my career, the team collaborating to bring this work forward has more women on it than men, and the conversations around inclusive planning have been very wide ranging, with an in-depth examination of barriers to active travel. A key factor is around safety and perceptions of safety in public spaces, especially in the aftermath of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. This means thinking carefully about planting, lighting and how an attractive tree-lined path, which seems so pleasant on a summer afternoon, can have an entirely different atmosphere on a wet winter evening. We need to think not just about the mapping of a project, but about the behaviours that will be projected on it.

With transport accounting for a quarter of all carbon emissions, it is imperative that we find more environmentally friendly ways to get around. And doing this means developing safe and efficient transport networks with the lives and experiences of women in mind. The schemes delivered under the £5bn Green Transport Boost recently announced by the government, must be assessed for gender equality, and invested fairly in the lives of everyone, starting with low-tech, easy to navigate walking infrastructure, and hard-wiring in places where women and girls feel comfortable and confident enough to reclaim the streets.

With excellent cycling infrastructure, I would be far more willing to cycle around town with my kids; and they would be fitter and more confident when it comes to travelling on their own. We must  plan our streets and transport networks to accommodate this flexibility, so that active, clean travel becomes the optimum way to get around for everyone.

Gender, transport & climate change!