When 3000 of you pedalled on Parliament this April, we garnered a lot of attention, got lots of warm words from politicians and have had friendly and mostly constructive meetings with people in power. Which is nice. But we always knew that the real proof would come now – when the draft budget was announced. After all, warm words and meetings and attention don’t do much to make our roads safe for cyclists of all ages, or at least not as much as actual spending does.
So what was announced? Well, you’ve probably seen the headlines by now – an extra £6 million on cycling infrastructure over the next two years. Great news, right? And the Cycling Walking and Safer Streets funding has been confirmed to continue for two more years although its budget will fall (from £6.1m in 2012/13 to £5.6m in 2013/14) before it rises to £8.2m in 2014/15. All this is presumably on top of the £27 million that Keith Brown has already announced for infrastructure and encouragement over the next three years.
Is this what we pedalled for? Are we sitting at POP Towers cracking open the champagne, planning on putting our feet up?
Well no, not really. First let’s unpick those numbers a little. Our Manifesto calls for 5% of the budget to be spent on cycling – around £100 million a year or £20 a head. We’d also like to see total spending on active travel in all its forms at 10%. At the moment it’s less than 1%. All that extra spending – spread over a number of years, remember – doesn’t add up to even close to that. Remember that done well, cycling infrastructure costs money. A really good network, the sort of thing that means kids of 8 can cycle to school, will need sustained, substantial investment. Not a few million here and there, doled out at the last minute.
It’s worse than that though. Sure, the money earmarked for cycling has gone up – but so has the overall budget, by £68 million. That means in percentage terms we’re not even standing still – we’re going backwards. Over the past 5 years, the money spent on roads has gone UP by almost 40% whereas everything else – all the sustainable options like cycling and trains – are standing still. Remember that when the politicians tell you that there’s no money, and that times are tight.
Not investing in active travel for everyone is incredibly short sighted. The return on investment in roads is tiny – often less than is actually spent on the first place. Whereas investment in walking and cycling offers returns in the form of better health, less congestion and increased productivity of up to 19:1. Not only that but it tends to create more jobs than building roads – and more of the money is likely to stay in Scotland. Whether you cycle or not, on economic grounds alone the case is compelling.
There are many ways the government could rebalance its priorities by redrafting this budget in favour of active travel and we’ll be making some suggestions at next weeks Infrastructure Committee hearing. We’ll be urging you to write to your MSPs asking them to commit to 10% for active travel too – but above all we’ll be gearing up to Pedal on Parliament next year and this time it will have to be bigger and better than ever.