As we posted on Monday, we got a reply from the minister to our email after POP. Here is how we replied

Thank you for your detailed response to our email of 15th May. We are glad to read that you understand that delivering infrastructure to the highest standard is central to making cycling a safe and realistic travel choice – we couldn’t agree more.

Starting from that point of agreement, we’d like to follow up a few of your responses to our questions.

On the point of funding, as you will be aware, we – along with all the major cycling organisations in Scotland as well as many other public health and other bodies – will be calling on all parties to commit to spending 10% of transport funding on active travel. While Scotland has made some strides in this area, we are still, I think you would agree, nowhere near that level yet. We would hope to see this figure in the manifesto commitments for the Holyrood elections. This is not a figure that we’ve plucked out of thin air – it comes from a recommendation made by the Associaton of Directors of Public Health and is comparable with the investment per head of European countries such as the Netherlands, and other places where dramatic increases in cycling have been achieved.

You cite Seville, for example, as a place where the modal share has raised from 0.5% to 7% – encouraging in the light of the CAPS vision of 10% of journeys by bike in 2020. It’s worth noting that this wasn’t done on the back of funding of approximately £5 per head and some Bikeability training. Seville planned and built a network over a period of a few years and at the cost of EUR 32 million for just one city. We hope that Scotland will genuinely take the lessons of Seville to heart and put investment at the heart of its strategy.

Similarly, while we welome the fact that a robust case will be made for active travel projects for any Barnet consequentials, this sort of short-term contingent funding is the least cost-effective way to invest in a long-term network. We know from our experience with local authorities that not all of them can find projects to bid for at short notice that will fit in with a long-term vision for cycling, as was so effective in Seville. Instead, officers are scratching around for ‘quick wins’ – proposing cycling infrastructure where there is room to install it without too much disruption, rather that putting it where the need and the impact is greatest. A few shared-use pavements and converted railway lines will not create the sort of ‘safe and realistic travel choice for cyclists of all ages and abilities’ that we know is what works.

The Scottish government is, rightly, not building the Forth Crossing on Barnet consequentials and underspends from other projects, or reopening the Borders Railway by asking Local Authorities to put in a bit here and a bit there as they find the match funding. Building a national active travel network requires similar levels of forward planning and commitment as either of these great infrastructure projects. This will allow stakeholders like Sustrans and our local authorities to invest in the people who will be building the network, and make sure that we get the very highest quality design – and thus don’t have to rip out and do-over work, wasting time and money (as seen in recent projects in Glasgow, for example). It means that local populations can be properly consulted and work prioritised to meet real needs. In short it means that, at a time when funding is tight, investment goes to the right projects and is spent in the right way.

We were disappointed to learn that your plans for 20mph speed limits don’t seem to offer the step change that we’d hoped after your speech at POP. You mentioned the Good Practice Guide on speed restrictions, which is a step forward, but this came out in January 2015, and you say you have no plans to change to default urban speed limit or take other measures beyond this year’s review. We hope that the review does offer the opportunity for the Scottish government to be bold in this area and use the powers it has to transform urban areas for vulnerable road users.

On the CAPS vision, we are a bit confused as to the source and context of your figures that you cite for cycling to work levels (which – note – are not at all the same as cycling modal share which is what the 10% target refers to). The latest CAPS review did not show levels anything like that high for Edinburgh, Moray and Dumfries and Galloway, even taking the less strong measure of ‘usually’ or ‘sometimes’ cycling to work, rather than that being the actual daily level. Can you clarify the source of the figures? The latest CAPS Monitoring Report gives 6.5% of those in Edinburgh ‘usually’ cycling to work (and a further 5.7% regularly cycling to work – no definition of what those terms mean though). Only one ward of Edinburgh, Morningside, had 9.9% cycling to work in the census. Realistically, the current modal share of less than 2% means we all have a mountain to climb and, as we said above, we hope that the Scottish government will be looking hard at the example of Seville and working out how to apply its lessons over the next four to five years, in order to acheive similarly impressive results.

Finally, on design and standards. We welcome the news that Cycling by Design is to be updated and we would urge Transport Scotland to consult bodies such as the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain as well as international experts from the Netherlands and Denmark. Active travel stakeholders should include cycle campaigns across the country and also projects such as Freewheel North and Play on Pedals who are working with people cycling across a true range of abilities and ages. Disability charities, including those for visually impaired people who are particularly affected by conflicts over shared space, should also be involved, and naturally we look forward to putting in our own two-pence worth.

In the last year, both the Welsh Government and Transport for London have brought out design standards which represent a step change in UK cycling infrastructure provision, although still with areas of weakness compared with continental designs. In some cases, this is due to differences in UK traffic laws; future devolution plans should enable Scotland to take control of these areas and make the changes needed. In short, there is an opportunity here for Scotland to lead the way in developing truly world-class cycling guidelines, on the back of what the Welsh and London have started.

However, design guidelines alone are not enough, if they are not backed up with real teeth, and if they do not apply not just to cycling projects but to all road and street developments. We are already seeing projects going in in places like Glasgow (around the new Southern General for example) which do not meet the minimum standards of Cycling By Design. We would urge the Scottish government to look at how both the new Welsh and London guidelines are backed up with an audit tool which ensures that cycle routes are direct, safe, comfortable and convenient. At a minimum, we would hope that much stricter and more comprehensive audits be included in the new document and that only routes which pass the audit would get central funding from the Scottish government.

We would also expect that all road works – including the maintenance you refer to – should take cyclists’ needs into account, so that the network can be built with minimum disruption to all road users. This would quickly raise the standards of all local authority designs, and also ensure that the significant investment we’re asking for is not wasted, but instead returns the sort of dividends that we know active travel can bring in terms of health, cuts in pollution, and reduced congestion.

Scotland has the opportunity to lead the way within the UK in creating a country where active travel becomes the norm. We know that this is one of the stated purposes of the Scottish Government – and we hope that together we can actually put the conditions in place where that becomes a reality.

Together we can make Scotland a cycle-friendly country

Letter from the Minister – we respond