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£24.3 million Cycle City Ambition scheme attacked – but other councillors express support

A councillor in Birmingham has said that the city’s £24.3 million ‘Cycle Revolution’ will only benefit “young, white men” and that cycling is a “discriminatory” form of transport.

Last year, England’s second largest city was awarded £17 million under the government’s Cycle City Ambition initiative, which together with £7.3 million in local funding is aimed at getting 5 per cent of journeys made by bicycle within a decade, rising to 10 per cent after 20 years.

According to the 2011 Census, Birmingham has the lowest proportion of bike commuters of any major city in England – just 1.44 per cent of adults, virtually unchanged from 2001.

Among features of the council’s strategy aimed at driving growth are 71 miles of new cycle routes, improvements to 59 miles of existing routes, including segregation, lower speed limits for motor vehicles, and a network of traffic-free routes using canal towpaths and open spaces.

However, speaking at the Edgbaston District Committee, Conservative councillor Deirdre Alden expressed concerns over the sums being spent, because “the vast majority of cyclists on our roads are young, white men," reports the Birmingham Mail.

She went on: "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,” she added.

Making cycling more accessible to people who do not currently ride is a key part of the council’s strategy, however, with the Cycle City Ambition application underpinned by a ‘built it and they will come’ approach.

Providing safe infrastructure, for example, has been shown to encourage more women to cycle, and the initiative also seeks to increase levels of cycling among ethnic minorities and schoolchildren.

The councillor also claimed disabled people do not get any benefit from cycling, although a report from a Birmingham City Council committee ahead of the formal bid cited that “indicators demonstrate that cycling amongst individuals with disabilities [in Birmingham] is increasing at very encouraging levels.”

According to the Birmingham Mail, councillors were reportedly “stunned” – despite the initiative being widely reported locally at its launch – to hear that of 5,000 bikes the local authority plans to buy to establish cycle hubs which will act as hire stations and centres for training, 2,000 will be given to people living in deprived areas.

The initiative, Big Birmingham Bikes, follows on from the council’s Be Active initiative, designed in part to reduce levels of obesity.

At its launch earlier this year, Councillor James McKay, the council’s cabinet member for a green safe and smart city, said the Be Active initiative was “now an internationally recognised public health intervention. Look at the figures: forty per cent of 11-year-olds are overweight and one-in-four is obese.”

He added: “There are barriers to cycling and not everyone can afford to go out and buy a bike straight away, but short-term loans, long-term loans and bike maintenance should help to break down those barriers.”

Labour Councillor Matthew Gregson said this week: "My concern is that we are giving these bikes away to people who are not going to use them. This would be a waste of public money,” and said they should only be given to people who showed they were committed to cycling.

"Otherwise,” he warned, “it's a massive waste at a time when we've got very few resources. We should send back a message to the Department for Transport that this part of the scheme is an absolute nonsense.”

However, there was support for the city’s plans from other councillors. One, Labour Councillor James McKay, said: "Everyone accepts the model of us all getting around in single occupancy cars is broken. With a rising population, this will lead to gridlock so we have to change our way of doing things."

One of his Labour colleagues on the city council, Councillor Caroline Badley added: "We are going to have to move to a position where we have more people using bikes and we know that many people do not use bikes because they do not feel safe. While there are some reservations, this investment is generally a good thing."

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.