You may have noticed that the Scottish Government today released its long-term vision for active travel in Scotland – drawn up in partnership with a number of ‘active travel stakeholders’ (not us, we’re just a bunch of people on bikes). It’s a curious sort of document – not a plan (not even a ‘plan’ like the CAPS), not a policy document, just something that sets out (in Keith Brown’s words) “how we hope Scotland will look in 2030 if more people are walking and cycling for short, everyday journeys”.
You could argue that the vision set out is pretty good. For instance, it acknowledges right from the start that more active travel will deliver a healthier and fairer Scotland, with less pollution, more pleasant communities and sustainable economic growth – it’s almost as if they’ve been listening to what we’ve been saying all these years. And it’s clear about the role of infrastructure in achieving that, rather than relying on exhortation and training:
“main roads into town centre all have either segregated cycling provision or high quality direct, safe and pleasant alternatives … Rural and suburban minor roads have low speed limits … This active travel network ensures continuity of routes and linking of key destinations… Crossings prioritise people”
(it’s a shame it’s illustrated mostly by the sort of shared-use paths that puts cyclists and pedestrians into conflict – but then again, if Scotland already had a network of high-quality segregated cycling provision we wouldn’t need a vision). And there’s more: winter maintenance, people-centred planning of our urban centres, bikes integrated with public transport, including buses, better bike storage, the list goes on. Wonderful. We could hardly have put it better ourselves.
And yet, having whetted our appetite with this wonderful vision we turn to the end of the document for the plan to make it a reality and we find … nothing. There is no plan, no funding. It’s as if the government had decided that in order to replace the Forth Road Crossing, all they needed to do was draw a picture of a bridge. Just a vision. A long-term vision. A Scotland where ‘many more’ people walk or cycle for shorter trips by 2030, a date which is comfortably enough into the future that nobody need wory about how we will get there
And that’s the rub. Because Scotland already had a vision – a shared vision of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020. Even downgraded from a target to a vision to an aspiration it was still something measurable and within a timeframe that is already looking dangerously close given that in the first four years of the CAPS the percentage of journeys has barely nudged upwards and is still less than 2%. It would be very cynical of us to suggest that waving this shiny new vision at us is in fact the government’s first step towards quietly taking out the old inconvenient vision behind the barn and drowning it in a bucket, so we won’t. That’s the sort of trick Westminster politicians play. Up here in Scotland, we hope our governments are more straightforward than that.
So, let’s applaud this new vision. But let’s do more than that, let’s actually make it a reality. We’ve already said after the last POP we stand ready to work with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to help create a real roadmap towards a cycling friendly country. We stand by that. We’re delighted that the Scottish Government recognises the huge role active travel can play in making Scotland a better place, and how the country will have to change to get there. But we recognise that we won’t achieve this by wishing and hoping and visions alone. It’s time to make a start to bring about that change.