The 2013 transport statistics are out for all of Scotland and here’s the headline figure: when it comes to cycling, Scots are going an extra mile. No, not the extra mile (they were already doing more than that, so convoluted is the average cycle route in Scotland) but one whole extra mile each: the distance cycled per head in Scotland in 2011/12 rose to a massive 35 miles, from 34 miles in 2009/10 (to put that into perspective, the Dutch would cycle further than that in a month – and 15 years ago Scots were cycling 37 miles per head, so there’s been no long-term rise). As the headline figures show, bike traffic has increased 29% since 2007/8 – but from such a low base that cycling still amounts to less than 1% of all road traffic. And even that tiny increase hasn’t come from an upsurge of people cycling. The number of bicycle trips per head remains at just 9 – in short, what little increase there has been has been due to people making longer journeys by bike, not more of them. It’s possible, indeed, that the entire increase in Scotland’s cycling statistics is down to Dave Brennan moving further from his job so he could get more cycling in …
Joking apart, this is depressing but not surprising. As we said when the census figures came out, we would have been surprised if Scotland had seen a massive upsurge in cycling because there hasn’t been the investment needed to make cycling attractive to everyone. Men are still three times more likely to cycle to work than women, which is generally considered a sign that the conditions for cycling are hostile. And nor is cycling reaching those areas that you would think needed it most – the most deprived areas in Scotland see lower than average cycling, while the most affluent areas have the highest rate of all (though still a paltry 4% of all commutes).
Some places are bucking the trend. Edinburgh is seeing increasing cycling everywhere, and is the only place in Scotland where the proportion of households with access to a car is falling. That’s undoubtedly because Edinburgh is investing in cycling – pledging a high and rising proportion of its transport budget, year on year, and with an actual active travel strategy underpinning it. Edinburgh is not perfect – but it does show that when governments, local or national, invest in cycling then they see returns. And when government spending bumps along the bottom – then so too do cycling levels.
At the end of the day, real, sustained investment in cycling works. That’s why we’re calling for a minimum of 5% of the transport budget to be spent on cycling (and 10% on active travel). That’s why we’re calling for proper design for cycling so that everyone feels safe cycling, not just a tiny percentage. That’s why we’ll be gathering at the Meadows in Edinburgh at 12 noon on Saturday 26th April to Pedal on Parliament. And that’s why we need you there to join us. Together we can make Scotland a cycle-friendly country.