In recent weeks we’ve seen two key related policy announcements out for consultation from the Scottish Government: their plans to reduce car kilometres driven by 20% by 2030, and the latest Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2).
In many ways, these two documents and the policies that are in them vindicate our campaigning over the last decade. When we first came up with the idea of a flash mob cycle on the Scottish Parliament 10 years ago, the policies listed here would have seemed like a pipe dream. At the time, active travel budgets were slated to be cut from already paltry levels of less than £40m per year. Now we’ve got the promise of investment rising to 10% of the transport budget by the end of the parliament – a minimum of £320m by 2024/25 – which is very close to one of our original manifesto asks.
But how is this money to be spent? Both the STPR2 and the driving reduction policies offer more details of proposals to increase active travel (among other things). Those most relevant to cycling are:
- Delivering 20-minute neighbourhoods – which will involve a fairer allocation of space for pedestrians and cyclists with packages of improvements to active travel infrastructure in and around town and neighbourhood centres.
- Investing £50m on ‘active freeways’ – arterial corridors on high-demand travel routes, with better connections to them from residential areas.
- Creating a nationwide active travel network, connecting villages to their nearest towns, connecting towns together, and building a long-distance active travel network (expanding the national cycling network).
- Publishing the Cycling Framework and Delivery Plan for Active Travel in 2022.
- 20mph speed limits ‘on appropriate roads in built-up areas’ – to be designated by local authorities.
- Encouraging local authorities to deliver more ‘safe to school initiatives’ with the aim of ensuring every child who lives within two miles of school is able to walk, wheel or cycle there safely. This could include better routes to schools or more school streets where roads outside schools are closed to motor vehicles during school start and finish times.
- Improving access to cycles (loans and grants for ebikes, free bikes for school children).
- Support to purchase buses with space for bike transport as well as wheelchair and buggy space
- Road safety with a renewed focus on pedestrians and cyclists, including video reporting.
- Restrict parking through pavement parking ban enforcement (but with exemptions as designated by local authorities) and enabling local authorities to introduce workplace parking levies.
This all sounds very positive – but there’s a catch. While the Scottish Government is putting up some of the cash and setting the direction of travel, it’s up to local authorities to actually implement almost all of these measures. As we saw during the pandemic, when councils were offered money for temporary ‘spaces for people’ measures, not all councils are fully on board. While some took the opportunity to trial ambitious measures, some of which have since been made permanent, others have done very little or nothing at all. As things stand, we risk a two-tier Scotland for cycling with a few councils hoovering up all the investment on offer, and some of the places that most need investment being left ever further behind.
Every single council in Scotland is up for election this May, and we need to make sure that council candidates know what’s important to their voters. The next few years will be crucial to turning our emissions around and when it comes to transport, the keys are in the hands of our local authorities. We’ve spent 10 hard years campaigning to change minds in the Scottish government and, to some extent, we have succeeded. But we don’t have another 10 years to waste waiting for councils to catch up. We’ve got to keep getting the message out there: This machine fights climate change – but only if the conditions are right. Now it is time to deliver.