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Cycling

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

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Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

I am delighted to close this debate for Scottish Labour. Before I begin, though, I would like to share the sentiments of members across the chamber and take a moment to remember all those who have been seriously injured or have lost their lives as a result of cycling accidents on our roads.

No matter what level the accident rate drops to it will be too high, and I am glad to have the opportunity today to debate what we can do to reduce the number of accidents and encourage more people to engage in safe cycling. I thank Alison Johnstone for her broad-ranging motion.

I often seem to begin my speeches with a quote from ministers and today is no exception, as I will quote from the ministerial foreword to the “Cycling Action Plan for Scotland”, in which the then Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, Stewart Stevenson, stated his vision, saying:

“By 2020, 10% of all journeys taken in Scotland will be by bike.”

He went on to say:

“We just need more people to cycle more often and in so doing, develop a cycling culture in Scotland.”

There used to be such a culture, certainly in rural Clydesdale, where I stay. My old neighbour and the first person I met when I moved there was ex-miner, Jim Simpson, who also used to play in a dance band. He used to tell me of many times making late-night rides home by bike with his fellow band members from as far afield as Moffat, instruments strapped to their backs. His village of Douglas Water had its own cycling club, as did many other villages.

There is perhaps a renaissance in popular cycling; certainly, there is an interest in it. I whole-heartedly support the Scottish Government’s vision for cycling, but like many of the SNP’s visions it lacks detail about how we are going to get there. I am concerned that without the financial support for infrastructure development, access to safety training and the creation of schemes to encourage more people to take up cycling, we will fall short of the 10 per cent target. Today’s new national travel survey shows that only 1 per cent of journeys were completed by bicycle in 1985 and that today that figure is the same, so a step change is definitely necessary if we are to reach the 10 per cent target.

Malcolm Chisholm highlighted the value of community-led initiatives. I, too, commend Spokes, Sustrans and other cycling organisations. The pedal on Parliament campaign group has some very positive suggestions in its manifesto. Some of its proposals inform the wider debate and are certainly worthy of consideration. I will attend its rally, but despite Alison Johnstone’s kind offer, I will not bring my bicycle. It sits in my basement, because I am a rural cyclist and not an urban one, and I was made even more nervous about urban cycling by Malcolm Chisholm’s remarks about the dangers of Leith Walk.

How do we ensure that cycling infrastructure is incorporated into the planning process for new roads and other projects? There is an example of that working well along the Airdrie to Bathgate rail line. However, as we heard from Helen Eadie and others, there are many poor examples. Also, cycle paths are often put in as an afterthought, with painted lines taking the place of safe and dedicated cycle tracks, as Marco Biagi highlighted.

I have spoken before about the great example set by the Netherlands, where a remarkable 25 per cent of journeys are completed by bike. We should look to incorporate infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists into planning guidance for rural and urban local authorities, and Scottish Labour supports that element of the motion. We also call for support for safer speed limits, which Elaine Murray highlighted.

I hope that the minister will consider more than 40 per cent of children having on-road training.

Scottish Labour supports the Government in its target of having 10 per cent of journeys completed by bike and supports the motion. In Alison Johnstone’s words, we need to move up a gear or two.