Birmingham councillor answers critics after claiming cycling is 'discriminatory'

Councillor Deirdre Alden of Birmingham City Council objected to money allocated for cycle schemes as it would benefit 'white, young men'

(Image credit: Chris Catchpole)

A Birmingham councillor who reportedly claimed that cycling was “discriminatory” as it only targets “white, young men” has told Cycling Weekly that she “thought most people would agree with me”.

A story in Thursday’s (September 11) Birmingham Post said that Councillor Deirdre Alden of Birmingham City Council objected to the Department for Transport giving the city £17 million to become a Cycle City with a further £6.3 million being invested by the council.

The Post quoted her as saying: “The vast majority of cyclists on our roads are young, white men. 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.”

Her opinion caused outrage on social media, with many people using Twitter and Facebook to lambast her comments.

Cllr Alden has told CW that neither the Birmingham Post nor the Independent – which ran the story in today’s newspaper – contacted her and that her argument is that the money does not “benefit every aspect of Birmingham which is an ethnically diverse city.”

She said: “When I made the comment in the Edgbaston council meeting it was regarding to the lack of reference made to the Equality Impact System report.

“You look around and of the people who are cycling they do not belong to wider ethnic groups. The majority of cyclists are white, young men. Fact.

“I have had elderly women and Asian women saying to me that they do cycle and, yes, there are examples but most cyclists aren’t elderly or part of a wider ethic group. That is my point. I thought that most people would agree with me.”

Cllr Alden responded to the criticism saying that she is “not an idiot”. The Conservative councillor added that the money – ring-fenced for cycling projects only - is not being invested in the correct cycle schemes.

“None of the £24 million is being spent on lighting the canal tow path which would enable safer cycling,” she added.

“It is all being spent on the road and this can put cyclists off. It is only helping current, confident cyclists – not new cyclists and all sections of society.

“There is a scheme in a local Edgbaston park that is encouraging Asian women to cycle which is great but we’re talking about roads here.

“These grants have to be spent by a certain time of else the money is rebuked. Therefore decisions are rushed and rushed decisions are not always the right decisions.

“We are in a Cabinet system and therefore I do not make the decisions. I am not an engineer also. But why is the Equality Impact System not be taking into account?”

West Midlands regional director of British cycling charity Sustrans, Yvonne Gilligan, disagreed with Cllr Alden, saying: “Contrary to the comments made this week, the great thing about cycling is that it’s accessible for everyone, regardless of age, gender or background."

“While many cyclists are young men, many of us are from backgrounds as diverse as the community we live in – it’s a great joy to see people of all shapes and sizes taking to the bike as we work towards a greener, healthier and safer city.”

Sustrans have invited Cllr Alden to visit its East Birmingham Active Families and Communities project, and said that only 11 per cent of its participants are white males aged between 14 and 75.

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Chris Marshall-Bell

Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.

Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.