“[T]the cycling vision is a challenging aspiration that requires clear and committed shared ownership by all its stakeholders going far beyond that of the Scottish Government alone. Thus a Scottish Government target would be inappropriate and underplay the essential role of the wider delivery landscape” – Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, 2013

 (does anyone know what this is meant to mean? Answers on a postcard please)

As you may be aware, the Scottish Government released the ‘refreshed’ Cycling Action Plan for Scotland yesterday, after consultation and evaluation of the first plan – you can read our own response to the original here. Remember, we are now 3 years into the first CAPS – and the government’s own statistics – as of March 2013 – are pretty damning:

  •  1.3% of journeys are currently made by bike
  • 2% of commuters (2.9% of men and 1% of women) usually travel to work by bike
  • 3% of children normally cycle to school

 Since 2010, these figures have barely changed, despite soaring fuel prices. In other words more of the same is not an option. So what does the refreshed CAPS offer?

 It now lists 19 actions – up from 17 – but while there are a couple of good elements in there it still doesn’t amount to anything like a plan. We’ll be making a more detailed response in a day or two, but for now what stands out to us when looking at the language of the report is a complete and utter absence of any real leadership from the Scottish Government.

Let’s start with the money, because without consistent and substantial funding, nothing will be achieved. And don’t take our word for it, it’s right there in the document itself:

“Published evidence from around Europe suggests that investment in the order of £5-10 per head per annum could be needed to grow modal share year on year from its current low base in Scotland to the level in CAPS” (note that’s at the very lowest end of what would be required – Cycling England’s own findings suggest that a minimum of £10 per head would be needed, and that was assuming a ten year investment cycle – rather than the 7 years we now have left)

But it then goes on to say

 “The challenge now is to identify from where this level of resourcing will come” – remember, this from a government that has just announced a total of £8.5 billion on spending on roads over the next decades. What does cycling get? £27 million over the next 3 years, plus £20 million to the Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets fund for Local Authorities. 

To put this into perspective, one of the actions mentioned is to develop a long-distance network, including “significant routes” of over 32km long. At the cost of up to £1 million per kilometre to built high quality infrastructure, then the funding available over the next three years won’t even build one of these routes. Not one.

So if it won’t invest, what will the government do? Well some of the language in the document is instructive: 

“Local authorities could consider the appropriateness of providing segregated cycle lanes on sections of their network”

“The application of this planning policy and guidance by local authorities should steer improvements to our community lay-out and infrastructure to facilitate active travel”

“All trunk road improvements consider provision for cycling and walking where no suitable parallel links exist on quieter roads” 

“There is a role for Regional Transport Partnerships, local authorities and other bodies to come together to support the development of services that integrate with active travel options”

“Communities themselves have a significant role to play in promoting local sustainable transport choices” 

“Transport Scotland will investigate the potential to issue an advice note to local authorities on 20mph limits and zones”

Investigate, consider, steer, promote – lovely vague verbs – and you’ll notice that there’s very little there that the government itself are promising to do. 

So what are the good bits? Well there are three actions which seem promising, with some caveats:

“Develop for each local area the strategic approach to supporting functional cycling …, mapping the appropriate infrastructure improvements required along with supporting promotional work to achieve tangible changes in travel choices”  – we welcome this as it is in our manifesto, although, if you look more closely, it is not clear whether LAs are to be required to do this or just given some resources to help them do this

“Establish an annual national cycling summit involving the Minister for Transport and local authority Heads of Transportation and relevant Committee Convenors, to lead delivery and gauge process” – if there was an actual action plan, then this sort of thing would be essential, although without one there’s a danger it will just become an annual talking shop

“Report annually on an appropriate suite of national indicators” … and “Develop local monitoring … to develop a coordinated approach to data collection” – again, this is in our manifesto, although you would kind of hope that we hadn’t launched a national action plan three years ago without robust statistical gathering in place – but better late than never.

While we welcome these, it’s notable that they’re all tending to pass the buck back to the Local Authorities. We recognise than any real sustained improvement in cycling must happen in partnership with councils but we would like to remind the government that there is more to leadership than setting some ambitious goals for somebody else and then watching with interest as the years pass and absolutely nothing changes because you have done nothing to make it make it change. 

So what would we like to have seen in a refreshed CAPS? The government could do a lot more to use its powers to offer real leadership, through funding, standards, and enforcement, using its own devolved powers. Make 20mph the default speed limit for residential areas, for example. Create national design standards that follow best practice for cycling, rather than offering guidance. Enforce laws protecting vulnerable road users, rather than encouraging ‘mutual respect’. And above all invest money in active travel right across this country of ours, instead of looking around to see if there’s a few crumbs available from the roads budget.

Now that would be a Cycling Action Plan for Scotland worthy of the name.


CAPS – A Failure of Leadership