In the week that Donald Trump is being handed the keys to the White House, and plans for Brexit are making Scotland’s future more uncertain than ever, we needed something to hang on to. Some sense that things would, in some small way, get better.
It’s fair to say that the newly released refresh of the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland isn’t it.
Pleased today we have launched latest iteration of our cycling action plan – ambitious but need to rise to the challenge https://t.co/5aIKqX6DcK
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) January 17, 2017
Announced as an ambitious plan according to the minister this morning on Twitter, we were optimistic. When the CAPS progress report came out last year , it seemed to represent an acknowledgement by the powers that be that if the government’s own vision of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020 was to have any hope of being achieved then – to use the report’s own words – ‘a long term increase in sustained funding is required.’ This, unfortunately has been explicitly rejected in the new CAPS:
“Whilst generally agreeing with five out of the six pre-requisites, the Scottish
Government’s position is that levels of transport spend cannot simply be based on
percentage allocations for each transport mode. The overall transport budget must
reflect existing contractual requirements, planned maintenance and upgrades and it
would be wrong to arbitrarily allocate definite amounts to any one mode.”
This seems incredibly short sighted. While we can understand that committing to a particular percentage of the budget might not be practical, that doesn’t stop the Scottish government from substantially increasing the spend on active travel. Spending on cycling of £20 per head would match the level of spending in the leading cycling nations, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, and would mean we could realistically hope to meet the vision – reiterated in this latest document – of 10% of journeys by bike, albeit seven years after the deadline of 2020 (see the Spokes budget submission for details of how this figure was worked out).
As it is, 2020 is now less than four years away and we are barely making any progress. Six years after the first CAPS was published in 2010, cycling’s modal share has reached just 1.4% of all journeys. To achieve anything like the sort of shift needed towards cycling – especially without materially increasing investment – the Scottish government needs to show firm leadership and publish a real, focused and realistic plan to make the absolute most of the little funding it is providing.
Instead, here’s what we have under leadership:
“Transport Scotland will review and update the Trunk Roads Cycling Initiative
and the commitment within that to improve cycling and walking infrastructure
around trunk roads when the opportunity presents itself, for example the
dualling of the A9 and A96. We will also consult on an update of Cycling by
‘When the opportunity arises’. That’s Scottish cycling policy in a nutshell.
And on the National Cycle Network:
“Continue to grow and maintain the National Cycle Network (NCN) to provide a
strategic network of longer distance cycling routes for leisure, recreation,
tourism and functional trips. Develop a National Cycling and Walking
Network, especially in rural areas, as outlined in the National Planning
Framework 3, to promote cycle tourism and to connect rural communities, for
example by installing ground level solar lighting and wifi hotspots on rural
cycle counters. “
Wifi hotspots. Not the many kilometres of traffic-free tracks that is needed to make the NCN a true network for cyclists of all ages and all abilities, but wifi hotspots.
And on 20mph speed limits:
“Encourage and support the implementation of 20 mph streets/zones in
communities across Scotland to improve road safety and encourage walking
and cycling for everyday journeys. For example, through the promotion of SG
guidance on the implementation of 20 mph schemes and the sharing of best
practice across the country, published in 2015.”
Instead of making the bold decision to move towards making 20mph the default in our towns and cities – something that would actually cut costs for local authorities and provide a consistent speed limit across Scotland – they’re ‘encouraging and supporting’ communities.
In fact, we think the minister has spoken the truth – this is an ambitious plan. Because the Scottish government is attempting to achieve what no government, city, or country has managed, and more than quadruple cycling levels in less than four years on a spend of at best £6 per head – and without doing much more than cajole, encourage and stick in the odd bit of infrastructure here and there ‘when the opportunity arises’.
That is, indeed, truly breathtaking in its ambition and we wish the minister luck in achieving it.
He’s going to need it