On Wednesday, Transport Scotland published the Phase 1 recommendations for the second Strategic Transport Projects Review today (STPR2 to its friends) and, if a 120-page document (and 20 individual appendices) feels a bit daunting, we’ve done a bit of the reading for you!
The first thing to note is that there will be another report out later this year on Phase 2. Phase 1 focuses on recommendations which “lock in” some of the sustainable behaviour changes arising from the current situation, and promoting economic recovery. Phase 2 will cover the 20-year stuff and is currently just a 10 page list of suggestions ranging from enhancing the NCN to trunk roads, reopening rail lines, and the ‘Control Centre of the Future’ (you can see the full list at the end of the report).
So what’s in Phase 1? The short answer is: 20 interventions divided into eight themes. Of these, there are six active travel measures (plus some accessibility improvements to the trunk road network).
As always, with Scottish Government documents, the introductory paragraphs say all the right things — mentioning the sustainable transport hierarchy, prioritising walking, wheeling and cycling for shorter journeys. In other words, it talks the talk — but does it walk or wheel the walk?
We’ve taken a quick look at the details of six interventions with a direct impact on active travel to find out more. Each has its own short separate document, linked here, if you want to check the details for yourself.
Intervention 1: Active Freeways
Details: Active Freeways
These were the big new active travel announcement in the climate change update document. The document notes that safe cycling infrastructure was the highest priority among respondents to the online survey for STPR2 (filling in these surveys can be hard work, but they do make a difference!) and dissatisfaction with existing cycling and walking/wheeling conditions was high.
It sounds as if they will be modelled on London’s cycle superhighways. and are likely to focus on the suburban edges of the four biggest cities where the highest levels of short car trips are. The report also notes that suburban areas can suffer from transport poverty and deprivation but can be within reasonably-easy cycling distance from city and town centres, so there’s a strong equalities case too.
Unfortunately, these documents don’t come with a plan (yet) or a budget — although we know that the Active Freeways have £50m allocated to them in the programme for government for the next 5 years, which isn’t very much …
Intervention 2: Expansion of 20mph zones and limits
Details: Expansion of 20mph zones and limits
Once again, this is a popular policy: 72% of Scots surveyed supported lowering the speed limit in urban areas to 20 mph. So, are the Scottish Government going to apologise to Mark Ruskell for scuppering his 20mph bill and implement it themselves as part of STPR2? Sadly not. They are going to implement a national strategy though. They will review existing schemes, develop some best practice guidance, support local authorities to implement 20mph zones, and run national road safety campaigns. It’s not nothing, but it’s not particularly radical. It will also be more expensive than changing the default speed limit in built-up areas, and may mean there is less money available for other interventions.
Intervention 3: Influencing travel choices
Details: Influencing travel choices
Influencing travel choices, aka behaviour change. This can be effective, especially when it’s combined with good infrastructure, because people do take time to change their habits; but this doesn’t feel all that strategic …
Intervention 4: Placemaking
This intervention didn’t sound all that promising (it doesn’t even have a verb) but it’s all about reallocation of road space towards active travel in towns and villages. It’s got all the buzz words (place-based, 20-minute neighbourhoods) but, at its heart, it’s about working with local authorities to create accessible and family-friendly spaces to increase footfall in town centres. You just need a like-minded council to take this opportunity…
Intervention 5: Mobility hubs
Once more we’re talking demonstration projects and guidance so nothing earth-shattering but an opportunity for a forward-thinking council.
Intervention 7: Reallocation of road space
Intervention 7 speaks our language. It is basically about using Places for Everyone funding to help councils make temporary Spaces for People projects permanent. Unfortunately, this means no new money, and for those of us whose councils haven’t yet done anything substantial with the Spaces for People funding or have ripped them out already it means we will likely miss out. On the other hand, this does make a lot of sense if we want to get infrastructure in quickly and Spokes have made a good case for this approach.
????It is 100% clear that @scotgov wants successful SfP projects to stay
"making these permanent where successful is the next key step in .. roadspace .. allocation & supporting active travel"
— Spokes CycleCampaign (@SpokesLothian) February 3, 2021
There are obviously lots more interventions than the ones we’ve detailed here — and some will mean improvements to accessibility and public transport. Even the trunk road intervention includes retrofitting things like dropped kerbs and bus shelters. Clearly, the message is getting through that building more and more roads is not the answer to Scotland’s problems and that active and sustainable travel must be part of the solution.
So, to sum up — it’s good to see a clear focus on sustainable and active travel and your consultation responses matter, so keep them coming! But the government’s real priorities lie in the budget, not the nice policy statements with pictures of bicycles on the cover. That’s why we’ll keep on campaigning for proper investment in active travel, not just business-as-usual.
There’s a Holyrood election coming up (pandemic permitting) so watch this space for news of how you can help us keep the pressure on all our politicians to put their money where their mouths are and make Scotland a cycle-friendly (and hence people-friendly) country.