When we started Pedal on Parliament, perhaps we were a little naive. Like many enthusiastic cyclists we knew we got a huge amount of benefit out of our mode of transport – the money savings, the better health, the happiness, never being stuck in traffic, feeling more connected with our own community – and we wanted to share it around. We looked at our roads and towns and cities and it was clear to us that the people in charge didn’t realise just how beneficial cycling could be, because everything about them said that cycling, or even walking, was something to be discouraged, at best tolerated.
We thought that all we had to do was explain to our politicians – with evidence – all the many wonderful things that investing in cycling could do to help them achieve their goals. Like reduce inequality by giving people who can’t afford to run a car a safe practical means of transport – which also improved their health. Like cutting air pollution and meeting Scotland’s ambitious climate-change targets by reducing the number of private car trips. Regenerating our towns and cities by making them places people wanted to live – rather than driving a dual carriageway through them. It seemed obvious to us that creating the conditions that enabled everyone to cycle would do all these things – but then again, we were cyclists and we’d spent a lot of time reading about places like Denmark and the Netherlands and the benefits bikes bring. Our politicians were busy people and probably didn’t have time to spend hours reading about Dutch bike paths or looking at chic Copenhagenites. So we thought that if we gathered together with a couple thousand of our cycling pals and showed up at Holyrood to let them know in person, they would see the light.
As we said, naive.
The problem, we now realise, having read the refresh of the National Transport Strategy isn’t that they don’t know all that. They do. Read carefully (you’ll have to dig a bit because it doesn’t mention active travel at all in the executive summary) and you’ll find that the government realises that “households with lower incomes are relatively more dependent on public transport and active travel” and thus lose out when public transport costs rise even as motoring costs fall. That widening travel choices encompasses increasing active travel. That, with transport amounting to one-quarter of Scotland’s total emissions (and road transport making up almost three-quarters of that total), more sustainable means of transport must be found. And that,
“Scottish planning policy fully endorses … the sustainable travel hierarchy which promotes walking, cycling, public transport and car sharing in preference to single occupancy car use.”
They’ve summed it up in this nice little graphic which we heartily approve of:
The problem is, they aren’t acting on it. Looking at what they do – as opposed to what they say – and a completely different travel hierarchy emerges. When it comes to investment over the past 10 years of the transport strategy, the pyramid looks very different:
And that’s us being generous on active travel – unlike roads and rail, buses and aviation, the document doesn’t even give us the total investment on active travel for the last decade, just a total for the last four years. We’ve extrapolated that on the basis of it having been about the same for the five years before that – in truth, the total is likely to be lower as last year saw a high-water mark for active travel spending, as the minister himself announced at PoP last year.
Unsurprisingly – to us, anyway – the results have been fairly predictable. Over that time, the investment in rail has paid off to some extent – but so too has car use risen, while bus use has fallen and fewer people are walking to work. It turns out that, when it comes to transport policy, you mostly get what you pay for. Perhaps more surprisingly, though, is the fact that cycling has gone up – by 30% if you count miles travelled, and from 2% to 3% if you look at modal share for commuting (although beware rounding – eagle eyes on twitter have spotted that the two graphs here add up to 99% and 101% in total) – pathetic in comparison with our northern European neighbours, but an increase all the same.
On BBC Scotland’s Car Sick, we heard the minister say that if we wanted to cut car dependency and increase cycling, Scotland needed a culture change. But we think, looking at these figures, that Scotland’s brave, determined cyclists have done their bit, and far more than the government actually deserve based on what they spent. We can only imagine what an improvement we could have witnessed if the investment had been in line with the government’s own modal share vision of 10% of all journeys, rather than the 1.4% of investment it actually got. Derek Mackay is right when he says we need a culture change – we do. A culture change among our politicians, of all parties. To put their money where their mouth is. To give Scots the roads and towns and cities they deserve.
On April 23rd, we’ll be heading to Holyrood to tell them just that. We hope you can join us.