Unlike bicycles, ships are known for taking a long time to turn around – and there’s nothing with a longer turning circle than the ship of state. That makes it hard for campaigners to tell if they’re making a difference – and sometimes it can be even harder to recognise when things are turning around.
That said, we are hopeful that the Second Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS) Progress Report might just represent the moment when Scotland began to properly alter its course towards become a truly cycle friendly nation.
Back in 2010, when the CAPS was first devised, and POP wasn’t even in existence, it was fairly orthodox (at least among English-speaking governments) to try and increase cycling levels through at best a mixture of exhortation and encouragement – and at worst what felt like a mixture of wishing and hoping. Since then, however, the evidence on what is really needed to bring about a step change in cycling levels has piled up to the point where it cannot be ignored. The responses from cycling groups and organisations across Scotland have been similarly united: what we need is substantial and sustained investment, in infrastructure that enables everyone to cycle, if we’re to reach the government’s shared vision of 10% of journeys by bike.
It is to Cycling Scotland’s credit that it has not ignored this policy consensus. Time and again, throughout its pages the message comes through, loud and clear: “A long term increase in sustained funding is required, with year-on-year increases over time towards a 10% allocation of national and council transport budgets”; “The primary investment focus should be on enabling cycling through changing the physical environment for short journeys to enable anyone to cycle”; “Build and maintain dedicated cycling infrastructure, enabling people aged 8-80 to cycle safely on coherent cycle networks in cities and towns” – the contrast with previous iterations of the CAPS could not be more marked. Yes, you could quibble with the emphasis put on training and behaviour change – but even so the report is clear that they must be there to complement the investment in infrastructure, not replace it. Nor should there be any abandonment of the vision of 10% of journeys by bike – even if we have to accept, realistically, that this will not happen now by 2020. This represents a sea change in policy, and something we have been campaigning for from the start. We therefore welcome this report wholeheartedly.
Cycling Scotland was tasked by the Scottish Government to write this report – but it is not itself the Scottish Government and there is no guarantee that the government will follow the course it sets. South of the border, the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy – which contained no actual investment – shows that the Westminster government is still at the stage of sticking its finger in its ears and shouting ‘la la la la we can’t hear you’. We urge our new Transport Minister to be more far sighted and take this opportunity to start to steer Scotland’s active travel policy in the right direction, before we founder altogether.