The leader of the Conservative opposition on Birmingham City Council says believes the West Midlands city’s ‘Cycle Revolution’ will lead to greater congestion for motorists – and says the council should focus on measures to keep cyclists away from main roads.
Councillor Robert Alden said that plans to put separated cycle lanes along streets such as Hagley Road in Edgbaston as part of a £60 million investment in cycling in the city will not encourage more people onto bikes, reports the Birmingham Post.
He maintains that the Labour-controlled council would be better-off investing in upgrading routes such as those in parks or on canal towpaths to keep bicycles off the road.
However a Labour cabinet member insisted the council was committed to getting people out of cars and onto other modes of transport, while the chair of CTC's national council says Councillor Alden does not “get” cycling as a mode of transport rather than a leisure activity.
Birmingham has been one of the principal beneficiaries of the Cycle City Ambition scheme operated by the Department for Transport.
It received a grant of £22 million earlier this month, on top of £17 million awarded in August 2012. Local match funding will take the total spent on cycling to more than £60 million.
The money is being spent on realising the council’s Cycle Revolution, which aims to increase modal share of cycling to 10 per cent over two decades and includes a set of cycle routes radiating from the city centre.
According to the 2011 Census, the city has the lowest proportion of cycle commuters of any major city in England, at 1.44 per cent of adults, with the figure almost unchanged since 2001. The shorter term aim is to achieve modal share for cycling of 5 per cent within a decade.
But Councillor Alden said: "This could cause serious congestion by taking away road space. Particularly as we haven't the best public transport system.
"We should remove road space after we have got the public transport, like the Metro, in place. Most people currently driving around are not going to switch to bikes."
He also said that focusing on main routes, which according to council figures will account for half of the money being spent, was a mistake.
"Those people going less than a mile are not using arterial routes, they are going around local centres," he claimed.
But one Labour cabinet member said the city had to rethink its transport priorities due to the failure of previous policies favouring motor vehicles to bring about change.
Councillor James McKay, who is cabinet member for social cohesion, equalities and community safety, said: "The basic principle is that, if you increase road capacity, especially at a time of a recovering economy, that road capacity will quickly fill and then you will have the same problem.
"What you need to do is try to shift to other modes of transport."
Meanwhile, Councillor Tahir Ali, cabinet member for development, transport, and the economy, added: "No-one is more pro-motorist than me but we have to acknowledge that, if you let the growth in cars continue at the rate it is without taking action, then this city will be gridlocked very soon."
Professor David Cox, who chairs national cyclists’ charity CTC and is a former chair of South Birmingham Primary Care Trust said: "The comments are extremely disappointing. I would ask why, if David Cameron and Boris Johnson get cycling, Councillor Alden does not?
"He seems to be of the kind who think cycling should be some kind of leisure activity in the countryside rather than something for people who want to get somewhere.
"It's not just about cycling - it's about getting people away from cars before we all choke," he added.
In November, secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin visited the city to help launch its Birmingham Connected initiative, summarised in the video below, which underpins its ambition to shed its “Motor City” image and become Britain’s “leading green city.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.