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Cycling

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

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

It is often the case that the public are ahead of the politicians. In our capital city, on certain routes and at certain times of day, up to 20 per cent of the vehicles on the roads are bikes. Cycling rates in Edinburgh are becoming respectable, but the picture nationally is more mixed. The official estimate of the percentage of journeys that are taken by bike is a lowly 1 per cent. However, if we can achieve promising cycling rates in this city of seven hills, there is no reason not to aim high across Scotland.

I welcome the Government’s target of 10 per cent of journeys being made by bike by 2020. However, as members would expect, Greens believe that we could and should be going faster and further towards sustainable travel, although we recognise the significant work that has gone into producing the “Cycling Action Plan for Scotland”. In the rest of my speech, I will focus on the specific calls that we make in our motion on issues on which we think Government action has fallen short of ambition.

All members will be only too aware when a tragic cycling accident happens in their region. Since 2000, there have been 16 cycling deaths on Lothian roads, almost all of which involved another vehicle. The ages of those who lost their lives range from nine to 75. On Monday, I met the parents of Andrew McNicoll, an experienced cyclist who lost his life in January on the way to work. In his memory, the McNicolls have set up a website, www.andrewcyclist.com, to raise funds for campaigning for safer cycling. As many cycling organisations do, they call for mutual tolerance and respect and greater safety on our roads to result from education.

At the start of this month, Bryan Simons was tragically killed following a collision and, in the past week, serious cycle accidents have been reported in Dumfries and near Elgin. In highlighting those tragedies, we risk fuelling the perception that cycling is a dangerous activity that is to be avoided, but I share the view of Spokes, the Lothian cycle campaign, that it is essential that we learn from those tragic fatalities. My motion welcomes the gradual downwards trend in cycle casualties in the latest statistics, despite there being more cyclists on the roads. The benefits of cycling vastly outweigh the risks, and it cannot be repeated enough that the single biggest thing that we can do to build a safe cycle culture on our roads is to get more cyclists on them and, thereby, to build a critical mass in favour of active and healthy travel. However, I am sure that no one will argue today that we have a road network that is adequate for cyclists. It could be much improved for vulnerable users.

We must acknowledge, as the Government’s consultation has done, that safety issues and perceived safety issues are barriers to meeting the 2020 target. I acknowledge the minister’s action last week in dedicating a meeting to cycle safety and inviting representatives from cycling and walking organisations to meet transport experts to share experience and views on how we can greatly increase cycle use while reducing casualties. It is vital that those goals be seen in unity and considered together in every policy. In that meeting, there was much consensus on the need for mutual tolerance and respect among all users. In calling the debate, my hope and intention is that we keep up the momentum and convert the talk and plans into real street-level action. I was surprised to learn that the meeting was the first time that active travel champions had attended that particular road safety group in Government. I ask the minister to ensure that they have a permanent place on the group in the future.

Speaking of momentum, I give my full support for the pedal on Parliament event that is planned for 28 April. It is a grass-roots initiative that involves a diverse group of cyclists. I urge every member to read the group’s “Making Scotland a cycle-friendly nation: a manifesto”, which makes a set of well-researched demands and goes into far more detail than I have time to do here.