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Time for a letter to Santa? image courtesy of Dr. Caroline Brown

After the disappointment of the draft budget – some cheering news: signs of real ambition among some local authorities in Scotland. Sustrans has announced the short list for the Community Link PLUS programme – exemplar projects of ‘big, bold and innovative’ ideas that can be “game changers” for active travel.

A few years ago, we might have expected not much more than a few converted railway lines, a walking and cycling bridge, perhaps – useful enough links, but nothing that would scare the horses (or, more pertinently, the motorists). But there is genuine ambition here to put bikes in their own space along direct routes, not just fitting in bikes where they can:

 

Edinburgh is looking to build ‘a joined-up cycle route from Edinburgh city centre to the western edge of the city … infrastructure would be focused on catering for people who are put off cycling by heavy and fast traffic”. East Dunbartonshire hasn’t been put off by the stushie over Bears Way and is ‘looking to continue … along arterial routes’, Glasgow City Council is planning ‘the creation of an arterial “safe for all” City Way segregated cycle route’ on Victoria Road and ‘ a core north-south segregated cycle route with increased permeability for cyclists in surrounding streets’ as part of its Woodlands Mini Holland, Callandar is improving the A84 corridor, Renfrewshire plans a strategic cycle route linking ‘Bishopton, Inchinnan, Erskine, Renfrew, Paisley and Glasgow airport’, and Inverness is looking to double levels of cycling with an ‘East to West’ active travel corridor. Twitter has been alive with commentary from cyclists who are often these authorities’ biggest critics, delighted at the plans and looking forward to seeing the details. A little bit of Christmas come early, to cheer the end of the year

There’s a catch, though – there always is. First, there’s the fact that this is a shortlist – only one, or at most two of these projects will be funded. Second, some of these projects (those from some of the more forward-thinking councils) are actually quite familiar because they’re already under consultation – in other words, this latest scheme won’t be encouraging new ambition, but subsidising plans which would have got built anyway. This is not surprising, because the deadline for this competition was extremely short, and so local authorities have had to dust off existing plans, rather than have the time to work on something that might be more useful, but would take more time. It also means that local authorities without the capacity to design something ambitious couldn’t take part, which are exactly the authorities that need a bit of ambition if they’re to take part in the Scottish Government’s shared vision of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020. It’s got to go wider than Edinburgh and Glasgow and a few enlightened councils elsewhere. It’s got to be something that reaches everybody.

The draft budget – cutting Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets funding – will undermine that ambition even further because it’s cutting the very funding that most local authorities use to design and build infrastructure today. Without that money, even more skills will be lost outwith the few councils that are taking a proactive approach to cycling. We can’t build a cycle friendly Scotland in just Glasgow and Edinburgh, and pockets of Moray and Stirlingshire. We need to build it everywhere.

But it’s Christmas eve, so we’ll end on a cheery note. Yes, it’s excellent news that there are these pockets of ambition to be found. And if we were writing our note to Santa we’d be asking for all of them to be funded, with plans for more so that every child wakes up on Christmas morning in the future not just with a shiny new bike under the tree – but a shiny new cycle path to ride it on. That would be a Christmas gift worth dreaming of

Christmas Comes but Once a Year