Have you heard the one about the lady Tory councillor, modest clothing and the free bike scheme? It sounds like the start of a non-pc joke, but it’s not. An article in today’s independent about a £23m scheme to increase cycling’s modal share in Birmingham, reported that councils were attacking the size of the investment and proposals to ‘give away’ 2000 bikes. Right wing attacks on cycling schemes are of course nothing new. But this one caught my attention and raised my heckles for reasons that will become apparent when you read the excerpt below.
Leading the charge is Conservative District Councillor Deirdre Alden, who told a council meeting on Monday that “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”.
She added that “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”.
What a load of utter, utter hogwash. As you’d expect, I know rather a lot of cyclists and I reckon the male to female ratio is about 50%. In the sessions that we coach at kids club, this split tends to be balanced slightly in favour of the girls. When I commute to work, Cardiff city centre is busy with ladies on bikes, largely – I suspect – down to two key factors; Cardiff is choc full of students/young professionals and Cardiff also has a network of green spaces in the centre of the city – including the Taff Trail – that provide quiet, safe, passage across the middle. And it’s the last point of course, that matters.
Safety. It’s all about safety. Safety, safety, safety. I don’t know the in’s and out’s of Birmingham’s scheme, but rather than give away bikes, build some really decent cycle lanes I say- preferably segregated to really encourage people – and people will come and use them regardless of colour, gender or age. In Hull – where my wife hails from – my mother-in-law regularly cycles around the streets on her Dutch bike, basket loaded with groceries. She’s 71 and I daren’t call her elderly. I’d find the rough end of her woodcarving kit rammed somewhere I’d really rather it wasn’t. As for the point about ‘discriminatory from of transport’ have you ever, ever heard such tosh? Can there be a vehicle more of and for the people than a bike? Cheap, readily available and easy to maintain, bikes open up the potential to own a swift urban vehicle for very low cost. Cyclists don’t have to endure the ultimate discriminatory tool in the unsustainable transport toolbox – Motor Insurance – for those precious gleaming boxes (scratched your car sir? Dear, oh dear. Well that will be a whole new wing and a respray, £800+VAT). Insurance companies make huge assumptions about the young and heap cost with glee on young ladies and gents alike. You can buy a good bike for less than a third of what it costs the average young person to insure a car (and that’s just insurance and doesn’t include the cost of the car itself). The whole discriminatory point is so flawed, I can’t see the point in labouring it.
I feel Councillor Alden, needs a holiday to get away from all the hustle and bustle and choking traffic jams in Birmingham. It’s clearly getting her down. A nice city break perhaps. I would strongly suggest Amsterdam, but given the levels of conservatism implicit in her remarks, parts of that city – and maybe even it’s very mention – may send her into a tizz. So I’m going to suggest Copenhagen or Utrecht for their strident efforts to help you relax. Maybe Malmö before it all gets a bit nippy. Perhaps Seville for the warmth of its sun and the majesty of the Alhambra. Or Nantes even. Cardiff’s twin city. And with these recommendations, Councillor Alden needn’t worry too much about dressing modestly for her hire bike (she’ll have lots of female company), allowing her to concentrate on enjoying the rich cycle culture and feeling of ease as she pedals quietly about her sightseeing, protected from the hurtling metal pollution generators by a mature and extensive network of safe cycle lanes.
I thought it would be nice to finish this piece on a high note. Here is an image of lots of people discriminating against other road users by arriving happily, healthily and speedily to work on time. Images via the Danish cultural institute (top) and Avenue Calgary.