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

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Absolutely, I will. We all commend the work of Spokes, pedal on Parliament, and Sustrans. They have all played very important parts in raising the profile of cycling.

It certainly feels to me that the cycling community is raising its voice louder than ever. For example, The Times’s cycle campaign is bringing the issue into the national domain. I urge the minister and other members who are around on 28 April to attend the pedal on Parliament rally, if possible.

Last Friday, the speed limit for many streets in the south of Edinburgh was reduced from 30mph to 20mph, as part of a pilot zone that was first proposed by my Green council colleague Steve Burgess. Way back in 2003, the previous Scottish Executive cited research that showed that injuries fell by 60 per cent and child accidents fell by 48 per cent in areas where 20mph zones were introduced. Nine years later, the Edinburgh pilot is still the most ambitious in Scotland, which suggests that progress is far too slow. We need to move to a situation where 20mph is the norm in residential areas. I would also like a broader review of speed limits in urban and rural areas. The recent accidents happened on 40mph limit roads. Those roads had parked cars, pedestrians, traffic islands and cyclists, so we must ask why they are 40mph limit roads. We must also look at the rural situation. Cars travel at 60mph through Newlandrig and residents there are calling for a 30mph zone.

If we are going to have in Scotland the type of cycle culture that we see in a number of similar-sized European countries, we need to train every child how to cycle safely on the road. The number of off-road cycle routes is growing every year, thanks to the great work that is being led by Sustrans, but the reality is that most everyday trips will involve cycling on shared road space. Currently, around 30 per cent of Scots children receive on-road training, whereas the figure is around 60 per cent in England. I think that the cycle plan needs to be more ambitious on on-road cycle training. I hope that the minister will agree to introduce a plan and resources to give all children access to on-road cycle training by 2015.

My motion also calls for more training for other road users. Just as there are careful cyclists and careless cyclists, there are careful drivers and careless drivers. We must do all that we can to build more mutual respect and tolerance on our roads. We must ensure that roads are safe spaces. Education and awareness raising are essential. I urge the Government to develop more resources for cycle awareness training for all professional and fleet drivers. I mention Lothian Buses in particular, as an example of best practice in that regard. We should also investigate the use of mirrors and sensors for some of the large vehicles on our roads.

In our Parliament city, the number of air quality management areas has doubled in recent months: they are areas where the local authority is in danger of breaching European Union air pollution limits. Breaches of the limits carry a hefty fine, not to mention their having health implications and negative impacts on people who suffer from respiratory conditions.

Investment in active travel is savvy preventative spend of the best kind for any council and yet, according to Spokes—which is much-respected for its research—half of Scottish councils spend zero pounds of their budget on cycling investment. A number of parts of my motion would require working with local authorities, but this is not an opportunity to pass the buck: it is a call for stronger leadership from the Scottish Government. Pedal on Parliament is pedalling on Parliament because the campaign sees Parliament as having a leading role.

Anyone who has tried to navigate central Edinburgh recently knows the disruption that road works can cause. We desperately need a long-term plan and money for segregated cycle lanes in urban areas, which are the norm in some European cities, and we must get better at improving our road infrastructure. Every time a road is dug up, a junction is changed or new signs are installed, let us seize the opportunity to make the area better for cyclists. If a road is being dug up, let us lay a cycle lane at that point.

Government action is needed to simplify the current traffic regulation order process. It can take a council months simply to remove a parking space for a cycle lane, which is a significant barrier to councils that want to respond by increasing cycling rates. We can address that kind of bureaucratic barrier now.

I could not open a debate about active travel without addressing funding. During the budget process, many members raised concerns and I acknowledge that the Government made last-minute changes. Yesterday, the Minister for Housing and Transport announced that the total cost of improving motorways in central Scotland will be more than £500 million, but the sums that are invested in low-carbon travel are tiny and will still be only 0.8 per cent of the transport budget in 2013-14. If we get this right, we will reap a long list of rewards in terms of health, air quality, jobs, carbon emissions, congestion and more. As a country, we need to shift up a few gears and match our words and ambition with action. I look forward to hearing speeches from across the chamber.

I will be pleased to accept the SNP and Labour amendments, but I cannot accept the Conservative amendment, which would delete much of the motion.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the growing number of cyclists in Scotland and the 12% drop in cycling accident casualties between 2000 and 2010; believes that investing far more in infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians will boost jobs, reduce business costs, cut congestion and climate-changing pollution and improve Scotland’s health by improving air quality and reducing obesity; recognises the central importance of cycling safety and the perception of safety on the road to encouraging more people to cycle; considers that active travel is a cross-cutting priority for central and local government and that active travel champions should be represented on relevant transport and land-use forums, and calls on the Scottish Government to place active travel at the heart of the planning system, to work with local authorities to implement a rolling programme to upgrade infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists as part of every road improvement, to expand the use of 20 mph zones in residential and shopping streets, to consider reviewing all urban speed limits and simplifying the Traffic Regulation Orders process, to provide the necessary support to ensure that all road users have access to increased cycling safety training and to work with local authorities to ensure that every child in Scotland has the opportunity to undertake on-road cycle training by 2015.