Last weekend I joined around 2,500 cyclists from across Scotland at the culmination of their Pedal on Parliament campaign for improved facilities and funding for cycling. Even the organisers were overwhelmed by the big turnout on the day.
There were words of support from record-breaking long-distance British cyclist Mark Beaumont, and Lynne McNicoll whose stepson died after a collision with an HGV truck earlier this year.
The Pedal on Parliament campaign has drafted a manifesto calling on better funding for cycling, improved provision of cycle paths and integration for bikes and public transport. I was delighted to support the Pedal on Parliament event, and to have the chance of highlighting Scottish Labour’s support for the campaign.
The Scottish Government has set the target that 10% of all journeys should be made by bike by 2020. It is ambitious but the experience of other European countries shows that it can be done.
However we start from a low base with only 1% of journeys currently made by bike and only 1p out of every pound spent on transport invested in cycling. So a step-change is needed if we are to rebuild a cycling culture. That means sustained support led by the Scottish Government and investment across Scotland.
Two thirds of our journeys are less than two miles yet for many safety issues are a major deterrent. Studies have shown that women are particularly put off because of their concerns about personal safety.
The specifics in the Pedal on Scotland manifesto are worthy of support: The Scottish Government needs to put in place proper funding and sustained investment, not one-off gestures. We need both dedicated facilities for cycling and better integration to ensure that it’s designed into our roads maintenance, our local transport strategies and our planning decisions so that parking facilities and infrastructure are cycle friendly. It’s also important not just at the level of trunk roads but on local roads too.
Safer speeds and an emphasis on cycle safety are vital too with all road users being more aware of the vulnerability of cyclists and a strategic and joined-up programme of road user training put in place. Solid research on cycling to support policy-making will ensure the benefits of investment can be maximised.
Promoting cycling as part of an integrated transport strategy that links bus and rail travel too could help to get people more active and make a real contribution to reducing our carbon emissions. Relatively small additional numbers of cyclists could also take pressure off our congested roads.
On Saturday I didn’t just bring Labour’s support for the general aims of the campaign. I passed the challenge back to those attending to find out what the views of their local council candidates are and to lobby those who are successful in the elections to push for action locally. I’ll certainly be working with my Labour colleagues in local authorities across Scotland to see what more we can do locally.
Young people will be inspired by Olympians like Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton – we need to make sure there is a legacy for their efforts so that our streets are safer and our off road routes more extensive. A starting point would be an audit of facilities and routes in local authority areas. We need to work together to make progress and the sustained investment we need means sustained political support.