The latest census data for Scotland has been released – including the figures for travel to work – and it’s not an encouraging picture

census figures - journey to work
Journey to work by mode – note that the figures for driving go off the scale…

Active travel as a whole has declined. Walking is down 1.3% while cycling is up very slightly from 1.5% of all journeys to work in 2001 to 1.6% in 2011 (actually from 1.51% to 1.58%). As cycling rates tend to be higher for commuting than for other types of trips, this suggests that Scotland is a very long way off from reaching 10% of all journeys by bike by 2020.

While disappointing, these figures are hardly a surprise. The real surprise would be if cycling had increased significantly when the government is investing billions in making it easier to drive, and spending only a tiny percent of the transport budget fiddling around at the margins for cycling. No amount of telling people that cycling is healthy, fun and cheap, nor of training schoolchildren to ride, will outweigh the fact that for the vast majority of Scots the roads are just too hostile for them to feel safe cycling themselves, let alone let their kids ride to school.

This doesn’t just matter for the small minority who currently cycle – it affects all of us. Not only have Scots got fatter over the same period, with only two-thirds of children now a healthy weight, but the government has also missed its own climate change targets – both areas where more cycling can be a cost-effective way of improving things. And nor should improving things for cycling make life worse, even for those who drive: catering properly for cycling should actually reduce congestion for all.

There is a simple solution – we’ve outlined it in our own manifesto. And it’s not too late to meet the 2020 figure, although the government is cutting it fine. Seville increased cycling tenfold – from 0.7% – in just six years through a concerted political effort to build a joined-up safe cycling network. Replicating that across a whole country would be hard – but if the will was there we could see similar rises in towns and cities across Scotland. But only if the will is there.

These census figures should be a wake up call for the Scottish Government. Its plans to increase cycling up to now appear to amount to no more than wishing and hoping, which is only really effective in fairy tales. It’s time to take real steps towards the changes we need to make Scotland a truly cycle-friendly country

A Mountain to Climb