Alexandra von Klan is a new member of the SF Bicycle Coalition studying american studies, gender and women’s studies, and City Planning at UC Berkeley. She devoted her undergraduate thesis project to the issue of street harassment of women biking. Read on to find out what got her rolling and what her research uncovered.
SF Bicycle Coalition: When did you start bicycling in the Bay Area?
Alexandra: In 2009, I got my first hybrid and rode to and from my college campus. However, it was only after a semester in Copenhagen that my bicycling really took off. The ubiquity of bike transportation over there inspired me to make bicycling a part of my daily routine.
What is your favorite thing about bicycling in the city?
Bicycling is a form of mindful transportation — one that allows me to really appreciate and connect with sights, smells and sounds. I feel more in tune with the city and entirely self-sufficient. I love the freedom that bicycling affords me and, as a woman, I appreciate any activity that increases my physical strength and confidence in public space.
What inspired you to devote your undergraduate research to safety and street harassment in public spaces?
I wanted to know more about potential reasons behind the cycling gender gap and sought to understand the nuanced experiences of women, trans* and femme-identifying riders with street harassment. I, too, encountered enough firsthand instances of street harassment while biking that I figured others must have as well.
What aspect of your research did you find the most surprising?
Women, trans* and femme-identifying people often devise strategies to simultaneously be seen (to avoid collisions) and be invisible (to avoid harassment). People who bike are confronted with aggressive verbal behavior, honking, whistling, kissing noises, inappropriate comments, leering, staring and yelling. This harassment takes on gendered overtures when directed toward women, trans* and femme-identifying people.
Some of the people I surveyed reported instances of physical assaults and even public masturbating; something I, too, experienced while cycling on a busy thoroughfare in Los Angeles. Still, many people I surveyed choose to bike in the face of harassment and continue their decision to ride for decades as a form of empowerment.
From your research, what are the top three things that could reduce street harassment in our city?
First, provide an intentional space to link women-identifying, trans* and femme rider experiences with street harassment and brainstorm solutions, enabling us to advocate for all people biking along the gender spectrum.
Second, educate the community about the legal rights of people biking when harassment occurs. People gain agency through education about what to do if they are harassed or assaulted while bicycling.
Third, strategize the evolution of safe and complete streets with feminist transportation urban planning. Protected bike lanes can mitigate the range of street harassment and safety concerns for women, trans* and femme-identifying people biking. Increased street lighting is a possible solution as well.
What prompted you to become a member of the SF Bicycle Coalition?
I believe that bicycling and walking are the key to a happy, stress-free, sustainable, and ecologically responsible future. I’m so encouraged by the work of the SF Bicycle Coalition to make bicycling more accessible and support the mission of the Women Bike SF program.
Women, trans* and femme members of the SF Bicycle Coalition are making space for one another at regular Women Bike SF events, including our monthly Coffee Clubs and our upcoming panel discussion on intersectional feminism and biking. Want to plug into the Women Bike SF community? All women, trans* and femme people and allies are welcome at the free events listed here.