It’s amazing what 4000 people pedalling on parliament will do – okay, they don’t necessarily cause the Scottish Government to adopt our manifesto wholesale, but they do suddenly create a window in the Transport minister’s diary. Keith Brown, who will shortly be visiting the Netherlands, managed to find time to meet three of us yesterday to discuss cycling policy.
We’ve met the minister before, and it’s hard to say how much more productive it was this time. We wanted to take the message to the government that investing in cycling doesn’t just benefit cyclists – we’re not here just to make the roads better for ourselves but to cut health costs, improve the economy, reduce congestion, cut pollution, and all the other amazing things that increased cycling levels can bring about.
In turn, Mr Brown’s message was that they were spending more on cycling, and also that we should be putting more pressure on local authorities to do their part towards the government’s ‘shared vision’ of 10% of all journeys by bike – after all the Scottish government only controls 6% of the roads. However, as we pointed out to the minister there are very few incentives in place for councils to invest in cycling and that is exactly where we feel the government must take the lead. Perhaps the government could set up a fund that councils could match for cycle infrastucture investment. There is already a model for this (Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets), however, considerably more investment is needed. Considering that studies have shown that for every £1 invested in cycling the benefits can reach £19, with matching funding from councils, a scheme such as CWSS could significantly improve the return on investment for central government. How can the government not invest in something that could provide up to 38 times the initial investment? There are some signs of progress in some areas – for instance better integration with trains as part of the forthcoming Scotrail franchise renewal – and there were a few areas where we hope they have taken away some ideas – such as updating the design standards for cycling to take account of best continental practice, but overall we feel there has been little movement.
Two areas where the government is looking for some ‘quick wins’ are around busy commuter routes, and also safer routes to schools. Both are obviously key areas to tackle first if you’re trying to bootstrap a cycling culture – but only if it’s done properly and part of a wider plan. Concentrating on commuters shouldn’t be an excuse to create low-quality routes suitable only for the more experienced cyclist. Nor should aiming to create safe routes to schools mean creating paths that are only really suitable for children – shared use pavements, or paths through parks that aren’t lit at night. Instead, we emphasised that if Scotland is going to invest in cycling it should do it properly – build a network that everyone can use, and build it once, don’t put in half-hearted measures that have to be done again once they’re shown not to be fit for purpose.
So what’s next? Well, we wish Mr. Brown well on his trip to the Netherlands and we hope that the evidence of his own eyes is more persuasive than we’ve clearly managed to be. We’ll be meeting him again in a few months time, and we’re happy to lay out in more detail how we see Scotland could be made into a cycle-friendly country. We hope that a bit more money will be found down the back of various sofas within the government – but while we welcome any increase, we won’t be mistaking that for a sustained and realistic programme of investment in cycling which is what we would expect if the government took its leadership role in cycling investment seriously. And we’ll keep the pressure on one way or another to keep cycling high on the national agenda