NB We’ll be joining We Walk, We Cycle We Vote this Sunday at 3pm outside the SNP conference at the SEC Centre in Glasgow to meet the minister (briefly) and celebrate the doubling of spending on active travel. If you & your family can join us, please do – and if you have POP t-shirts of any vintage then bring it along, to show just how long we’ve been campaigning on this! We’ll then head on to our AGM, to which everyone is invited.
Last month, we celebrated the announcement in the Scottish Programme for Government of a doubling of investment in active travel to £80m a year over the course of the current parliament. So far, the few details that have emerged have done nothing to undermine that announcement, and the fact that all five of the Community Links Plus schemes have been funded – instead of just one as was originally planned – has shown that the government is taking steps to ramp up its investment in good quality schemes with immediate effect.
So our congratulations to the minister still stands – but as we said at the time of the announcement, the devil will undoubtedly be in the details. And in talking to campaigners, councillors, officials and ordinary cyclists, two key details will be crucial in making sure that this investment is well spent.
We’re sure that Humza Yousaf is being inundated with advice from all quarters on this matter, but we would like to reiterate two points we have made to him in the past, which are now absolutely vital to get right:
1: Make our design standards as strong and ambitious as possible.
The current design guidelines for cycling (Cycling by Design) are currently being revised, while Designing Streets (published in 2010) should be coming up for revision soon. In the years since they were last published, there has been a revolution in understanding what we need to do to make our towns and cities safe and attractive places to walk and cycle. Not only have the Dutch and Danish continued to revise and improve their design manuals, but the London and Welsh Cycle Design standards have shown that similar approaches are perfectly possible in the UK. We urge the minister to ensure that the new version of Cycling By Design builds upon the best of those standards and, importantly, ensures that the guidelines apply to all road schemes, not just Transport Scotland ones, and not just when building cycle routes. When even as cycle-friendly a local authority as Edinburgh can almost nod through a monstrosity like the gyratory proposed for Picardy Place, we need to make sure that all developments build active travel in at their hearts, not as an afterthought, and that all of the active travel investment goes on world-beating infrastructure, not paint on the road.
2: Allow local authorities to think long term and fund them accordingly.
Cycling infrastructure is largely done in a hurry at the moment, in contrast with almost every other transport investment: imagine trying to build the new Forth crossing in under a year. World-class active travel infrastructure means more than laying tarmac on a few old railway lines – it means designing direct, visible routes along major roads. As we have already seen in Edinburgh, Milngavie and Ayr, such schemes can be controversial. Local authorities will need time to devise routes, build a coalition of support for them – and they will need money to support them through this process. One example the minister could follow is the mini Hollands in Enfield and Waltham Forest. Those three-year programmes, supported by extensive spending and dedicated staff, have allowed the boroughs to weather the inevitable storm of opposition and deliver schemes with real and widespread ambition.
There are local authorities in Scotland who are already thinking long term – Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow now all have funding commitments which should help them to develop the best schemes rather than just the easiest ones. But if the investment is to reach all parts of Scotland, not just the Central Belt, then all local authorities will need to be supported as they develop the staff, skills and long-term strategies needed for their own particular context.
As long as these two conditions are in place – and with the help of a strong, determined and able Active Nation Commissioner – we believe that last month’s announcement can go from being good to being great.