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

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Photo of Marco Biagi Marco Biagi Scottish National Party

I will not even try to follow that with my cycling record.

I am grateful to the Green party for bringing this timely debate to the chamber. Cycling has been a huge feature of my mailbag for the past few months, mainly in relation to funding, but more recently to the safety aspect, as many people are concerned about the four tragic deaths of cyclists in Edinburgh.

I am sure that other members welcome, as I do, the summit that was held on March 21 and the Scottish Government’s repeated recognition that, although it does not always have a role in delivering cycling funding or cycling schemes, it has a leadership role that applies not only to cycling but to all aspects of road safety.

A strong argument that has been made by cycling groups, and by Alison Johnstone today, is that one of the best ways to ensure safety among cyclists is to create a critical mass on the roads, so that cyclists are seen as partners and equal road users rather than as unwelcome intruders. That stands alongside all the technical road-safety improvements that were set out in the eight-point manifesto of the pedal on Parliament campaign, which I commend to members. It proposes a number of practical changes to planning, speed limits and other traffic laws, transport strategies, training and—above all—funding.

A good starting point in the discussion on active travel funding and the effect on cycling uptake is the excellent “Civilising the Streets” report by Transform Scotland. It looks at 13 cities around Europe and how they have substantially increased safe cycling. The report consistently argues that the key drivers that increase safe cycle use are material upgrades in three areas: dedicated cycle lanes, parking spaces and reduced speed limits.

One of the issues around dedicated cycle lanes that has been articulated to me by cycling campaigners is that they can make cyclists seem like the “other” by segregating them. I have also had constituents firmly make the case that, if large numbers of cyclists are to be encouraged, people have to know that they will be protected by something more than a line of paint. That is my view, as well.

An interesting section in the Transport Scotland document says:

“In all cases, the investment in active travel was coordinated and implemented by ... local government ... The study also found that financial support from the national government could be a vital factor”.

That is a useful interaction. It is similar to the situation that we have at the moment, with central funding through the CWSS grant scheme and Sustrans, which is matched by local authorities, and a strong emphasis on the actions of local government.

Transform Scotland highlights Stockholm as being a particularly illustrative example, because it faced many of the challenges that we face, including its geography, a low starting base and—a perfect parallel with Edinburgh—the medieval design of its city centre, which restricts flexibility.

Although the setting aside of a percentage of money and its being put in a pot for cycling is welcome, the greater prize—as illustrated in the part of the Transport Scotland report that focuses on Stockholm—is to ensure that all transport planning mainstreams the needs of cyclists, whether on general-use roads or new developments. That is the second point of the pedal on Parliament manifesto. That is not easy, and no one should pretend that it will be. However, it is not distinct from funding and it is a core part of what must be done.