Earlier today Frank posted an article about designing cities to help serve women and their transportation needs.  I thought I’d take a look at numbers for Seattle’s current mode splits.  All numbers are from the 2012 American Community Survey, and the percentages you see are the total number of commuters of a given mode and gender over the total number of commuters of any mode in that gender.

First, let’s look at the similarities.  There are similar numbers of commuters overall, with only 7% more male commuters than female (189,929M, 176,274F).  Male and female Seattleites drive in almost identical proportions (49.3%M, vs. 49.2%F).  They walk to work in similar proportions (10.1%M, 9.7%F), and work at home in similar ratios (7.2%M, 6.8%F).  But when we start looking at transit, the numbers start diverging.

Looking at “public transportation” as a group, women are well ahead of men (21.5%F, 18%M), and they keep this advantage when looking at buses in particular (20.5%F, 17.4%M) and “subway or elevated” (0.5%F, 0.3%M).  Even carpools have women leading men (9%F, 8%M).

Where men lead in alternative commutes is bicycling (5.6%M, 2.5%F) and taxis (1.8%M, 1.3%F).

Of course, one weakness of the ACS is that it only tries to capture commutes.  Like Vienna, it seems common in Seattle to have traditional gender roles of women running more errands than men, which might explain the 7% difference in number of commuters.  I’d love to see a study here that captures all trips, not just commutes.

As an aside, I’ve always found it interesting that our STB meetups seem to have many more men than women, and all of our regular writers here are men.  Considering women dominate Seattle’s transit scene, it’s strange that we’re missing out on the female perspective or even a female voice.  If you have something to contribute, send it to us at contact@seattletransitblog.com.

18 Replies to “The Seattle Transit Gender Gap”

  1. I think this is a hugely important issue. If you look at the transportation advocacy community in general, most of the Streetsblog writers are male, most bike bloggers and transit bloggers are male, and the vast majority of transit and transportation engineers and managers are male. This is despite the fact that there are a large number women operating buses and trains, the best American bike cities have nearly equal numbers of male and female bike riders (and international cities often have more women riding), and women are often taking kids to school, shopping and doing other short trips which favor biking and walking. In most 1-car families, the single car is more likely driven to work or school by the male.

    Even though we both work nearly full-time, most of the year, I admit that my wife is more likely to transport our kids and more likely to make trips for errands. She does most of this by bike, and rides about as many miles as I do, but more separate trips. But I’m the one who writes comments on geekly transit blogs.

    Perhaps the format of these blogs, with combative articles, trolling and flame wars in the comments, and often engineering-focused discussions, does not make most women writers feel at home. Engineering is still a field that is largely dominated by men. Can STB welcome articles that are less technical, but which might more closely reflect the interests and concerns of women?

    For an example, take a look at these articles by Sahra Saliman, in Los Angeles:
    http://la.streetsblog.org/author/sahra/
    Her most recent article “Eastside Access Project Takes Another Step Forward, Experiences Growing Pains” shows that she researched the technical background for this street improvement project, but most of the content is around interviewing local people and getting the reaction on the street. http://la.streetsblog.org/2013/09/27/eastside-access-project-takes-another-step-forward-experiences-growing-pains/

    1. What you want is a Streetsblog Seattle. There are lots of female contributors to Streetsblog NY, SF and LA. There are fewer for CHI and DC, but those places are more male-dominated generally.

    2. “Can STB welcome articles that are less technical, but which might more closely reflect the interests and concerns of women?”

      I know this was said with good intentions, but I’m catching more than a whiff of condescension there. Men, let’s pipe down a bit about how much we think we understand about gender disparities. This probably isn’t the best, most balanced forum. Nevertheless, thank you Matt for acknowledging the high ridership of women.

      1. Agreed. The “interests and concerns of women” are (hopefully not surprisingly?) functionally identical to yours. A well-rounded discussion of any topic will include qualitative and quantitative information, and I think STB and other similar outlets do a great job of balancing numbers and stories, which are hopefully informative to all readers, regardless of gender.

        I’m a daily reader (and lady), but I haven’t contributed/commented before because I’m still relatively new to town and don’t feel like I have the background to weigh in heavily on topics that have a lot of infrastructural history that I’m not well up on. That said, this post is a great call to arms for more folks to get involved, even as commenters.

    3. Another possibility would be if you took on some of the kid transport and errands, she’d have time to write comments and even articles.

      That’s what stuck out to me, much more than technical v. non-technical (what does that even mean?).

  2. First off, not all women are moms. When I was single and childless, my transit use looked different than it does now. I used to regularly do my grocery shopping via bus or walking. I rarely do that anymore because with two kids, it’s a lot more work.

    That said, women of all family statuses face some similar issues, mostly related to safety on/around buses. See my comment on the other post. One thing to add: I went to college in DC, so I rode the Metro a lot, and one thing that strikes me as different about Link vs. the Metro is that I rarely felt scared at a Metro station. I think that’s partly because of the turnstyles, and partly because the stations tended to be staffed. (It’s been a long time since I’ve been to DC, are the stations still staffed?) So, there were less sketchy people on the platform, and if something did seem amiss, there was a person to ask for help.

    1. I second the safety issue around/on KC Metro buses! I also agree it would be good to hear from more female contributors. When I commute on the Sounder, my lunch time errand transportation options are limited. I’d love to be able to do more errands during lunch, via bus instead of my car.

  3. From my ad-hoc experience, bus drivers I’ve seen have had pretty good gender diversity, although a bit more men than women. On the other hand, I am yet to ever encounter a female taxi driver, either as a passenger or through casual observance on the street.

  4. Matt, have you heard about WTS (Women’s Transportation Seminar)? We are really active in the Puget Sound area and had a joint meetup with STB last year featuring Paula Hammond and Joni Earl. Sadly, like you described, other than a few ladies came from our Chapter, most STB attendees are men. However, our WTS events always have a good mix men and women. We always tell folks WTS events are not just for women and encourage them to bring their male friends and co-workers and that really worked! Perhaps that is something STB can incorporate to encourage more diversity.

    more about WTS Puget Sound, see http://www.wtsinternational.org/pugetsound/

  5. I never had the chance to attend an STB meetup before moving, but the one I was almost gonna go to, I ended up backing out of because of how crazy the gender disparity was in the comment RSVPs (also partially laziness, I’m sure). I’m not sure why it mattered so much to me as a man, but I thought it was insane that out of 30+ people who said they were going, the only woman was a man who said something like “I’m going, and I’ll see if I can drag my wife along too.”

    I think the gender disparity in advocacy is a much bigger problem, at least in magnitude if not importance, than the ridership gap. I know there are women writing about transportation in Seattle–it’d be great if STB could recruit some of them for regular or guest posts.

  6. When you say “transportation advocacy” and “mostly male” in Seattle, you’re overlooking a few of us, although I recognize the comments focused on transit. The executive directors at Bike Works, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Feet First, Bicycle Alliance (me), and now my new colleague at Cascade Bicycle Club are all women. We’re writing on our own blogs and are quite active there, if not here. Add in Futurewise, Mountains to Sound Greenway, Washington Trails Association, and Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition as 4 more major advocacy organizations with women as EDs–not all directly on point to transportation but certainly in related spaces, especially Futurewise.

    There’s a lot of female leadership in other positions besides ED too, from Carrie Dolwick and Shefali Ranganathan at Transportation Choices Coalition to April Putney at Futurewise. If you want our voices on the blog I bet you can get us by extending this guest blogging invite directly. (You can thank Larry Ehl at Transportation Issues Daily for retweeting Streetsblog Network to get me here; I’m not a daily reader although I’m here fairly often, and I’m guessing the passive invitation won’t get to everyone who might be interested.)

    I identify more closely with my bicycling self than my transit-riding self but now that I’m in Seattle am almost equally reliant on both forms of transportation and certainly advocate strongly for transit in the policy work we do at the Bicycle Alliance. I did once upon a time serve as one of the riders featured in a Spokane Transit Association ad campaign; alas, I didn’t get to include my bike because they wanted the higher-ed connection I represented at the time.

    Here’s to ST 522 or Metro 306 or 312, where I might be if I’m not on my bike.

    Barb Chamberlain
    Executive Director, Bicycle Alliance of Washington

  7. Recognizing diversity’s importance is a step, but diversity exists on many axes. Gender is only one of them and often not the most relevant one.

    Finding a writer who differs in background or ability (financial, bodily, or otherwise) will likely yield greater increase in perspective than adding another college-educated affluent able-bodied writer who happens to be female. Differences in background or ability affect one’s transit experience and requirements whereas gender — with the exception of safety concerns — doesn’t necessarily.

    Unfortunately, due to the nature of blog-authoring (requires spare energy at the end of the day!), it may be easier to find the second type.

    1. Nicely put, although saying gender doesn’t necessarily affect one’s transit experience overlooks what is still a good-sized disparity in the responsibility for family/household tasks and errands; the358’s comment touched on that. Not universally true, of course, but still more common than not.

      It would also be interesting to take a look at other social media spaces besides comments/posts on this blog to see the demographics there (or what you can glean of them), given trends among usage of the various platforms.

  8. You’re not going to solve the lack of women in planing and engineering jobs by getting more comments or posts here, and that’s where the real problem stems from. Transit is actually a great way to get girls excited about studying STEM though (stick with me).

    This post on why students choose STEM careers was really eye-opening to me (and I use it in grantwriting all the time): http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoftupblog/archive/2011/09/07/what-do-parents-and-students-think-of-stem-education.aspx

    Men are more likely to choose STEM because of games, toys, reading books, and clubs, and women want to make a difference. But we rarely connect STEM fields to making a difference–young people hear about video games and robotics, which to most girls sounds boring. They need to hear about how STEM careers can make a difference in the world. In fact, this is a great strategy for increasing the number of women in any traditionally male field.

    So planners and engineers–go talk to high school and college students and tell them about what you do and why it matters. Tell girls that they can build the transportation systems that make us happier and healthier and protect the planet.

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