Supporting active travel across Scotland


As part of Scottish Labour’s effort to reach out to communities across Scotland, I was in Cumbernauld this week for a meeting of the Shadow Cabinet.

Following the meeting, I had the chance to visit iAmBikes, a social enterprise encouraging more people to take up cycling in the local area.

The approach at iAmBikes is simple – the project restores and rehomes old and unwanted bikes – but its impact is fantastic.

The benefits of cycling are well documented.  Not only does the physical activity help to promote health and active lifestyles, but the shift to cycling also has positive impacts on air pollution, traffic congestion and road safety.

CaptureThe project is run by a dedicated team of enthusiasts whose message is that cycling is for anyone. They are looking to promote cycling as an outdoor activity for all the family and have produced an excellent map of local routes.

They also have an eye on affordability. Bikes can be bought for modest sums, particularly important for growing children, but there are also options to buy a bike for a tenner and do it up yourself.

I was particularly impressed by their desire to help parents and carers to access affordable, quality bikes for young people.   It was also good to hear about the support given to people who have never been on a bike or not for decades.

What is really striking about Cumbernauld is that as a new town it was built with a series of walking routes across the town separate from road traffic.   Those routes are now coming into their own as the new map produced by North Lanarkshire Council and iAmBikes illustrates.  The map covers the whole of Cumbernauld and key locations such as train stations, schools, shops and key public services.  It’s an extensive network and iAmBikes are now working with the Scottish Wildlife Trust on their Living Landscapes project to make the routes more attractive to users.

Campaigns like the annual Pedal on Parliament mass cycle rally demonstrate the desire across the country to promote a more positive cycling culture in Scotland.  The Scottish Government has set a target that by 2020, 10% of all journeys in Scotland should be made by bike.  But while there is broad consensus on the benefits of cycling, there is real concern that the ambition is not being lived up to.

This week, the Parliament voted on the Scottish Government’s budget.  Its draft plans had been criticised by cycling campaigners and the Infrastructure Committee, which called for substantial additional funding to roll out active travel projects.  There was a minor uplift of £3.9m to support cycling and walking infrastructure – but I’ll want to see the details of how the money is spent.

Investment is hugely important if we want to make cycling a more attractive option for more people.  That means investment in infrastructure (like dedicated cycle routes and facilities like bike racks), training for people of all ages, and for local initiatives such as iAmBikes.

In Edinburgh, the local council has committed to increased cycling funding as a proportion of the overall transport budget year on year.  In 2015/16 this will increase to 8%.

Alongside investment, we need to see a greater emphasis placed on active travel in planning.  At the earliest stages of developments, designers should be considering how their proposals can support people to cycle safely by, for example, providing changing facilities, secure storage and clear transport planning.  We also need to consider transport integration and how cyclists can be accommodated on public transport to broaden cycling out from only short journeys to longer commutes.

These steps are crucial if we are to follow the example of other European countries to develop a sustainable cycling culture.  There are positive signs, such as research from Sustrans pointing to around half of children in Scotland walking or cycling to and from school. However, it is clear that a step change is required if we are to see such trends continue into adulthood when, all too often, bikes are abandoned in favour of driving.

I am continuing to pursue these issues in my capacity as Scottish Labour’s Environment spokesperson and as a member of the Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Cycling.