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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 29th March 2012.

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Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I, too, welcome the opportunity to discuss cycling. We have had debates on buses, ferries and railways in the past few weeks, so it is about time we discussed active low-carbon transport as well.

It is sad that there have recently been four fatalities within a month in Edinburgh. However, it is worth recording that accident levels have fallen since 2000, as the motion says. In a recent briefing, Cyclists Touring Club said that the risks of not cycling outweigh the risks of cycling by 77 to 1. I am not quite sure how that statistic was calculated, but it is fairly impressive.

We need to be clear that active travel should not be confused with sustainable or low-carbon travel. The minister referred to the budget for sustainable and active travel, which I understand will increase its budget share from 1 per cent to 1.4 per cent over the three-year spending review period. We need a separate budget line for active travel so that we can see whether the spending commitments on active travel are being fulfilled.

Much of Labour’s amendment is about 20mph zones. I understand from a press release from the transport minister on 21 March that such zones were among the initiatives that were discussed at the recent meeting of the road safety operational partnership group that focused on cyclist safety. The motion also refers to 20mph zones and traffic regulation orders.

I have recently been in contact with a campaign called 20’s plenty for us, which has been active around a constituency issue in Langholm. Rod King, the founder and national director, made me aware of the difference between 20mph zones and mandatory 20mph limits. Reduced traffic speeds in residential areas benefit pedestrians and other road users. The conventional way of doing that is to use self-policing measures, such as road humps, accompanied by advisory signage. However, speed bumps can present a hazard to cyclists. Cars weave around the bumps, stationary cars are sometimes parked on the bumps and cars and lorries that weave around them create potholes, which can be hazardous to cyclists.

Meanwhile, 20mph limits are mandatory and are advertised and policed in the same way as any other speed limit. They do not require physical speed deterrents, but they require policing. Although there are 20mph limits in parts of Scotland, including here in Edinburgh, some local authorities and police forces are reluctant to introduce them.

According to 20’s plenty for us, part of the problem is the guidance that we use here in Scotland, which differs from that which has been issued by the Department for Transport in England and Wales. The Scottish guidance was developed in 2001, but the DFT guidance was further developed in 2006. It states that

“the needs of vulnerable road users must be fully taken into account in order to encourage these modes of travel and improve their safety”.

It goes on to mention the importance of setting appropriate speed limits and states that

“speed limits should seek to encourage walking and cycling and to protect community life”.

The DFT guidance also crucially differs from our 2001 guidance by stating that

“mean speeds should be used to determine local speed limits as this reflects what the majority of drivers perceive as an appropriate speed”.

That is a change from the previous use of the 85th percentile speed, which I understand still applies in Scotland. For example, the DFT guidance recommends use of a 20mph limit in appropriate urban areas where the mean speed is 24mph

Changes-to-signage requirements are UK wide, as are the speed limits, but their use is determined by what is considered to constitute a traffic-calming device. Down south, the signage counts towards being a traffic calming device.