Cycling investment only benefits ‘white, young men’, says Birmingham councillor

12.00 | 12 September 2014 | | 7 comments

£23m of investment to transform Birmingham into a cycling city is discriminatory and only benefits "white, young men", according to a local councillor (Birmingham Post).

The DfT has provided £17m and the city council a further £6.3m to make Birmingham a "Cycle City" with a network of new routes for cyclists.

Birmingham City Councillor Deirdre Alden has expressed concern that such a large investment is being made in a mode of transport predominantly used by young men.

According to the Birmingham Post, Councillor Alden said: "The vast majority of cyclists on our roads are young, white men.

“Most elderly people are not going to cycle, and it would be dangerous for them to start on our streets now.

"Women of any ethnic group who wish to wear modest clothing, and I count myself in that category, are not going to cycle. It is a discriminatory form of transport."

The aim of the Birmingham project is to double the number of trips made by bike from 5% to 10% of the total in the city by 2033 – with the aim of making the city greener, healthier and safer.


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    Better to spend the £23 million on an entirely new city where there are no motorised vehicles allowed. That way all those that wish to live by the bicycle could all go and live there and leave drivers to enjoy their cars and lifestyles without hindrance and paying for the roads they cycle on! Easy to moan, while secretly enjoying all the benefits that modern motorised transport brings.

    Terry Hudson, Kent
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    Anyone concerned with “Facts” would appreciate that few people are actually killed by cycling per se. This is not an exercise in pedantry: the comparison is flawed in so many ways. You can of course cause a heart attack by over-exertion on a bike. You can also bring on a heart attack by an inactive lifestyle in which you drive everywhere, but that will never be attributed to death by driving. You can fail to control your bike and crash into a roadside object killing yourself in the process, but this clearly happens far more to drivers than cyclists. And the millions of low-risk motorway miles travelled by car inevitably distort any comparison with cycling, for which there is no true equivalent.

    Where the matter gets contentious is in deaths caused by collision with other vehicles. But the current fatality rate per mile for collisions occurring while cycling is not an immutable law of nature: change is both possible and beneficial. Some people may wish to distance themselves from it and justify their position by citing what they see as its imperfections. But a cyclist, elderly or otherwise need only to stay upright and in their saddle for life-changing injury to be fantastically unlikely. This can be achieved by improved infrastructure and intelligent behaviour by all road users.

    Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton
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    As cycling kills some 15 times as many people, per mile covered, than cars, more will die as cyclist numbers increase. By how much will of course depend on how much safer – primarily due to segregation – cycling routes become and the extent to which new cyclists choose to mix-it with motor traffic. Not a risk I would be prepared to take these days, or for many years despite being a keen cyclist in my youth in rural Cardiganshire.

    In any case there is a very good reason that has nothing to do with ability that makes it inadvisible for the elderly to cycle – bones become brittle and what might be a bruise for a youngster could well be life-changing injury for his grandfather.

    Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield
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    The types of infrastructure usually implemented in these schemes (I am unaware of the particulars) are intended to make cycling accessible to those who are less comfortable with being part of the general road traffic. Thus these schemes are intended to make cycling viable for everyone including those of limited income who do not have access to a private car and those who do not want to keep pace with motor traffic, thereby reducing the issues this Councillor has raised.

    It is strange to suggest that the elderly would be unsafe for them to start now, when they are the generation who used to cycle before being crowded out and who would probably benefit from being able to cycle if they no longer drive. Regarding modesty, traditional step through frames were designed for Victorian dresses which were the epitome of modest wear. What is probably more relevant is the need for a workable “bench” saddle which would have other health benefits for both genders.

    Mark, Caerphilly
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    As the first Birmingham City Council Cycling Officer (in 1986) I am amazed and delighted at how far the Council and the wider community has moved towards seeing cycling as a normal and important part of transport, leisure, public health and sustainability. Although cycling is still a minority activity it is growing and there are thousands of people (young and old, male and female) who ride for all sorts of reasons. Because cycling on the roads of Britain’s “car city” is still too intimidating for many people, the investment in safer cycle routes is essential for encouraging the types of people that Councillor Alden is concerned about. I would urge her to go and watch the cyclists using routes such as the Rea Valley Cycle Route – families, children, men and women – not just young white males. And it is worth remembering that, without those brave souls, cycling in Birmingham and elsewhere might have died out.

    David Davies, London
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    I agree with Tim
    Cycling uptake in the UK has very much been for the “fit and the brave”, especially for recreation. That is not to say that utility cycling hasn’t increased. But if we do aspire to the levels of public health that come from people using walking and cycling for most local trips then it is necessary to make our transport network far more convenient and safe for all cyclist levels of fitness and timidity. That’s one of the reason why we campaign for all roads to have a speed limit of 20mph unless adequate provision is made for cyclists and pedestrians. 20mph isn’t a “cure-all” for active travel but it is a foundation that sets a public consensus on how we share the roads, and one which other pro-active travel can be built.

    One of the things which impressed me when I first had experience in Warrington’s twin town of Hilden was that with 23% of in-town travel by bicyle and 20% by public transport then the number of cars per 100 people moving was far less than Warrington. Thus creating a “virtuous circle” in which the more people who cycle then the friendlier it becomes for cyclists and more convenient for motorists even though their maximum speed may be less. In fact I suspect that where places can increase cycle and public transport to such levels the actual car journey times are less than places with a highly “car saturated” and congested network.

    Notably, in Hilden their expenditure on segregated infrastructure was minimal, but they did enforce their limits. We must ask ourselves in this country whether police antipathy towards traffic offence management is part of our road safety solution or part of the problem.

    Rod King, 20’s Plenty for Us
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    At 51 I am wondering whether I qualify as “elderly” yet. It’s a long time since anyone called me a young man without sarcasm. But it’s all right, I don’t need the millions of pounds to be spent; I already cycle on Birmingham’s roads.

    It might however be discriminatory to fail to adapt the infrastructure to encourage the non-young-white-men to cycle. Dress is not a barrier: the internet abounds with images of people cycling with modesty all over the world in different ethnic garbs.

    Congestion, pollution and obesity are no respecters of gender, ethnicity or personal sensibilities. As long as the result of this spending is more journeys made by bike and fewer made by car there are benefits to the whole of society regardless of who is actually doing the cycling.

    Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton
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