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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

First of all, I should mention that I am a new member of Spokes.

I thank colleagues for taking part in the debate. Clearly there is much that the chamber agrees on and I welcome members’ recognition of the fact that active travel is well worth the investment.

The minister referred to the provision of active travel in the M8 project. However, I am sad to say that the same kind of provision has been omitted from the development of the Forth replacement crossing, and cycle path provision en route to the bridge requires urgent investment. I ask the minister to consider the latter point in particular. I echo Helen Eadie’s point about the need for good cycle infrastructure between Edinburgh and Fife.

I welcome the minister’s positive input, particularly his commitment to look at streamlining and simplifying the TRO system. I also agree with Claudia Beamish that we could do a bit better than the current target of 40 per cent of children having on-road cycle training. I ask the minister to revisit the target.

Elaine Murray focused on twenty’s plenty, the campaign to reduce traffic speeds, which provides so many benefits for vulnerable users and encourages walking and cycling.

We also heard about John Lamont’s athletic prowess. I take my hat off to you—your passion for cycling is obvious. It is certainly the world’s most efficient form of transport and has so many benefits. For example, it reduces obesity and cuts congestion—which in turn can cut business costs. You also talked about the culture of respect in other countries and the considerate behaviour shown by some of our European neighbours. As a qualified athletics coach, I agree that we should try to gain as much as we can from the Commonwealth and Olympics games. I have to say that I like the Conservative amendment; I just do not like what it seeks to delete.

Marco Biagi recognised the leadership role that Government can play and the need to normalise cycling. You pointed out the great work that Transform Scotland has done with its document “Civilising the Streets”, and you referred to the need for cycle lanes. Such provision would have an impact. Clare Adamson touched on the underrepresentation of women in cycling, and I think that we would see more of both genders on the roads if we had more segregated cycle lanes. Malcolm Chisholm was right to put safety at the heart of a successful cycling culture, recognising some of the excellent paths that we have in the city, but also the overwhelming support for more segregated paths and better infrastructure.

Fiona McLeod touched on the impact that social enterprise has in increasing cycling confidence and referred to the excellent work that is going on in Bishopbriggs. Here in Edinburgh, The Bike Station has done much to boost cycling. It takes in old bikes, refurbishes them and sells them at a reasonable price. It has queues round the corner in south Edinburgh on a Saturday morning. You also pointed out the tourism-boosting potential of cycling and the opportunity to attract tourists and locals to use forest tracks.

I look forward to John Lamont taking up Helen Eadie’s challenge to join competitors in her constituency. I am certainly going to take up the challenge and join the minister and others at the pedal for Scotland event in September.

The importance of better cycle parking at railway stations was also raised.

Clare Adamson focused on the fact that many young people—often males—are involved in cycle accidents. Cycle training and education have a big part to play in improving the situation. You also referred to the impact that the introduction of 20mph zones has had on accident rates.

I say to Nanette Milne that the Association of Directors of Public Health has called for far greater investment in active travel, notably for public health spend reasons. It is calling for 10 per cent of transport budgets to go to active travel. Its report is endorsed by more than 110 specialist and professional bodies, from the Institute of Highway Engineers to the British Heart Foundation.

I do not share Nanette Milne’s view that Boris Johnson is the nation’s favourite cyclist. I will perhaps keep my views on my favourite cyclist to myself.

I do not intend the motion to be prescriptive. I am simply seeking focus on the issues.

Claudia Beamish was right to point out that any fatality and accident is one too many. We could have a look at Sweden’s zero fatality approach. You spoke about people cycling home with guitars and so on on their backs. It is important that we normalise cycling as part of everyday life. It is notable that, in 1950s Britain, the cycling rate was 15 per cent, which is higher than Germany’s current 9 per cent. Perhaps that is because the roads were less congested. We can take heart from that.

Cycling has so much to offer. It is cheap, it is healthy and it benefits local economies. Parts of the United States have not just business improvement districts but bike-friendly business improvement districts. They have sussed out that one car parking space can take 10 to 20 bikes. In that way, they get more people in the shops, and people on bikes are more likely to stop and engage with their local independent stores. I would not often think of looking to the United States for green initiatives, but some excellent things are happening across the water.

As Nanette Milne pointed out, cyclists are less prone to the western diseases that afflict far too many Scots. I just think that cycling has so much to offer us as a nation. It does not all have to be about big investment. Small-scale local interventions can be highly cost effective. Confidence is delivered by safe routes to school projects, and workplace travel plans can reduce peak-hour congestion in a way that new large-scale road projects will never be able to compete with.

When a committee held an inquiry into active travel in the previous session of Parliament, there was cross-party agreement on the need to increase funding and resources to make our ambitions for cycling a reality.

Members might wish to know not only that the bicycle is generally agreed to have been invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan but that the first cycling offence, which was recorded in 1842, was by the same man. He knocked over a girl in the Gorbals area and was fined 5/-. It is my hope that, long before 2042—200 years since that dubious milestone—Scotland will be able to stand tall and compare itself to those countries that have already turned their vision into reality.

I hope that, at decision time, we will show again that all parties in the Parliament are serious about and committed to transforming the way in which we travel in Scotland.