On Tuesday, as Americans went to the polls, the great and the good of Scottish cycling policy were gathering in Perth for a rather different – and perhaps less momentous – occasion: the Cycling Scotland conference.
Like many who attended, we came away feeling modestly optimistic, especially after a tough couple of months in cycle campaigning. The minister came and said many of the right things. He seemed open to meeting campaigners (including POP’s own David Brennan) to discuss issues in more detail. He reiterated his commitment to ensuring national policy gets carried out at local authority level – and he also emphasised the government’s commitment to current levels of spending on active travel for the course of the next parliament. While we would argue that this is nothing like enough, merely the fact that it is a commitment over the next few years means that this money can be better spent, because it means people can plan for the longer term. This allows local authorities to tackle the hard problems, ones which (as Holmston Road and Bearsway have shown) will require them to build a consensus around and coalitions of support. In the long run, that should mean better schemes.
Not only that, but the tone of the conference was very different from previous years. There was a recognition that we need to embrace a wider world than just the policy makers and official bodies – with a greater diversity of voices heard, including campaigners, many more women speaking (and attending). There was a palpable sense from everyone there that we mustn’t let the setbacks in Edinburgh, East Dunbartonshire and Ayr define the next year – that we need to work together so that we can look back and see them as a turning point, not the beginning of the end. If officials, politicians, campaigners and ordinary citizens genuinely can work together to build better streets in Scotland, then we will be in a better place.
Donald Trump: “I swear to you I will never, ever ride a bicycle.” pic.twitter.com/fPWWDZgrzn
— Matt Viser (@mviser) August 22, 2015
Of course, we all then woke on Wednesday to discover that the world had become a very different place. In particular, the fragile consensus around tackling climate change incorporated in the Paris Agreement is under serious threat. This may mean that governments like the Scottish government will have to work doubly hard if we are to stave off disaster. Transport, and cycling, should – indeed must – be part of that effort.
Speeches at cycling conferences aside, we are aware that the Scottish government has a long way to go before it becomes truly cycling friendly. We also understand that many of you may feel that worrying about bike lanes might seem rather trivial in a world that has overnight become a more uncertain place. However, like Eleanor Roosevelt, we would rather light a single candle than curse the darkness, and for us cycling is one of those candles. And so we will keep the pressure on the transport minister to honour his warm words not just when he’s in a room full of cyclists, but thinking about all transport options. But we will also be happy to work with him and anyone else in power if we can together keep that flame alive.