We’ve been accused of being negative in the past about government announcements, partly because they haven’t always left us with much to be positive about. So we’re going to break the habit of a lifetime and welcome today’s announcement. An extra £20 million (over the next two years) has been found in the latest draft budget, and as the minister has said today, it is all going to go on building infrastructure for cycling, specifically the Sustrans Community Links programme. Of that, £3.6 million is to go on what has been described as “an exemplar commuter corridor” along Leith Walk, an issue we’ve covered before.
Today’s announcement shows both how far we’ve come – and how far we’ve still to go on our journey towards a cycle-friendly Scotland. Pedal on Parliament was partly born out of the response to the draft budget two years ago which planned to cut spending on active travel. Efforts by a whole raft of campaigners – including of course PoP1 and PoP2 – have succeeded in reversing those planned cuts and have meant that money for active travel, including cycling, has increased, although not by as much as the headline figures would have you believe. At the same time, tireless campaigning by Greener Leith, Spokes and Edinburgh cyclists in general (including many PoPpers) have encouraged Edinburgh council to upgrade the plans for Leith Walk from pitiful to something that will be an improvement for many cyclists. In particular, the removal of the London Road roundabout (early versions of which were described as a ‘cyclist blender’) along with partial segregated tracks along some of its length, will improve what has been described as one of the 10 worst roads to cycle on in the UK.
But a step in the right direction is merely a step. Adding in the new money, Scotland still only plans to spend £5 per head on cycling – much less than the £20 per head our manifesto calls for, and less even than the £10 per head that’s planned for those cities in England that won the recent Cycle City Ambition grants. Nor can we claim anything like a complete victory for the plans for Leith Walk. While an improvement, the plans are a long way from being visionary – and they don’t offer the sort of ‘eight to eighty’ cycling conditions that we believe are key to making Scotland truly cycle friendly. Cyclists will still have to dodge buses in places, and use narrow on-road lanes. The plans for Leith Walk will make it safer and more pleasant for existing cyclists – but are a long way from offering the conditions that mean everyone can ride.
Our manifesto has never just been about the money – even though without the money none of the rest of it can be achieved. Without good design standards – the sort of design the Dutch and Danish take for granted – a lot of that £20m risks being wasted on building infrastructure like Edinburgh’s ‘Quality Bike Corridor‘ that is little more than paint on the road – or else, like the most recent plans for Glasgow, puts cyclists into conflict with pedestrians on shared-use pavements rather than take precious space away from cars.
There is an alternative. For example these designs for Leith Walk show what can be done to reallocate the space to make cycling safer for everyone. Now that truly would be a visionary scheme and one we would be delighted to see built – and then copied right across the country. That’s the way to make Scotland a cycle-friendly country.