We Walk, We Cycle, We Visit Parliament…

Yesterday saw We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote reach right into the seat of power in Scotland (or rather an antechamber off to the side of the seat of power) as Suzanne Forup presented a whirlwind update on our campaign to last night’s Cross Party Group on Cycling at Holyrood. She was addressing MSPs Sarah Boyack, Alison Johnstone and Claudia Beamish, as well as representatives from Spokes, Cycling Scotland, Go Bike!, Sustrans, CTC Scotland and Pedal on Parliament. She joined Daisy Narayan of Sustrans talking about the Community Links Plus scheme, Chris Oliver talking about the Sit Less, Get Active online course and Dave de Feu of Spokes on their campaign to get 1% of the current trunk road budget transferred to walking and cycling.

Nor was the information flow all one way: Suzanne’s update was followed by a helpful discussion about how the campaign can engage more widely with people beyond the ‘usual suspects’. The MSPs emphasised the importance of campaigners attending local events and activities not connected to cycling, to spread the #walkcyclevote message outwith our own cycle-friendly circles. They also mentioned collaborating with environmental and social justice organisations to talk about the wider benefits of walking and cycling – to health, the environment and to transport equity. MSPs also urged us to reach out beyond the well-organised campaign networks in Edinburgh and Glasgow to our friends and colleagues elsewhere in Scotland.

Joan McAlpine at Women's Cycle forum
Joan McAlpine MSP in listening mode at the Women’s Cycle Forum hustings event

This reflects comments we got from MSPs and councillors at the Women’s Cycle Forum: that issues like safer roads and active travel don’t come up at hustings or even much on the doorstep. That risks leaving politicians with the impression that active travel – and especially cycling – is a niche issue, with an active lobby but little wider political impact. It it perhaps telling that only a handful of MSPs ever regularly attend the Cross Party group (Jim Eadie sent his apologies), all those who are already quite committed to the cause.

The good news is, that this means if you want to make sure that walking and cycling are on the agenda for this year’s Holyrood elections, you don’t have to address any parliamentary groups or organise a campaign event. You could simply go to any hustings and raise the issues that matter to you – whether it’s drivers speeding past you on the school run, or a lack of safe cycle routes to the shops, or pavement parking blocking your buggy or wheelchair, or pollution from heavy traffic affecting your health. Or even easier, simply answer the door when the politicians come knocking, or go and talk to them if they are out campaigning in your high street this election instead of hurrying past averting your eyes. Or just tweet at them and let them know directly what concerns you. Invite them along to see the issues for themselves – or simply come and join us all at Pedal on Parliament so they can see how wide an issue active travel is. You may be surprised at how responsive they can be.

Gritting news

icy pavement, clear road
Transport priorities made clear: does this really reflect the supposed transport hierarchy ‘put pedestrians and cyclists first, private car drivers last’?

With winter roaring back after a mild and wet December, something that’s of pressing importance to both pedestrians and cyclists is winter maintenance: the unglamorous everyday but crucial matter of clearing snow and ice away from the footpaths and cycle routes.

All too often, while the roads get gritted and cleared as a matter of routine, the places where people walk or cycle are either left to voluntary efforts or just left covered in snow and ice, often to the point that people end up walking in the road to avoid falling over. This is especially a problem for older people who are vulnerable to falls, or just suffer from the isolation of being trapped in their homes. Meanwhile those who cycle are left with the choice of negotiating rutted icy paths, or taking their chances with the traffic on the main roads

As blogger Darkerside points out, it’s what happens after the infrastructure gets built (often with external money), the ribbons have been cut and the fanfare has passed that shows a council’s real commitment to walking and cycling.

We did a little twitter survey among our followers to see which local authorities were really putting their money where their mouth was when it came to active travel. The results show something of a mixed picture

Edinburgh, whose commitment to spending a proportion of its transport budget on cycling includes maintenance, has been gritting its paths since 2013

Inverness has footway sweepers

and mini gritters

East Lothian are keeping on top of the pavements in Dunbar

Contrasting picture between East Dunbartonshire and Glasgow

Dundee has a plan ‘on paper’

There’s a mixed picture in Dumfries & Galloway

But apparently nothing in the Borders

Or in Aberdeen

If your council is one of the ones that doesn’t prioritise active travel, there are things you can do. Long term, the key is getting footpaths and cycleways included in your council’s winter maintenance plan – and the best way to do that is to let your councillors know they should. Email them, or invite them out to see the conditions in your area for themselves – and don’t let ‘there’s nae money’ be the answer. Remind them how much it costs to look after an elderly person with a broken hip, and see whether some solution can’t be found. In the short term, councils will often respond to individual requests to clear paths, so ring in the ones that affect you the most, as soon as the snow falls (once it’s packed down it may be almost impossible to clear)

Not every pavement and path can be treated, of course, just as not every road will be. So you can also take action yourself: there’s nothing to stop you clearing the pavement outside your own house, or beyond, and some community councils have voluntary programmes set up (see this one from Dumfries and Galloway council – which also has helpful advice on safely clearing snow and ice ) – see if you can help out, or if your local community hasn’t one in place, then set one up yourself.

In short, winter snow and ice needn’t stop play, or drive us all back into our cars. And if you want a little inspiration of hardy cyclists braving all weathers, try the hashtag ‘#VikingBiking‘ to see what can be done …

Reaching out

One of the things we hope We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote will do is to encourage people to reach out to their politicians (and candidates, come the elections) and let them know that things like active travel, and how our towns and cities are and could be, are important to them and why. We can quote all the reports and evidence that we like about the benefits of active travel – but none of it has anything like the impact of one of their constituents or a local group getting in touch with them directly, in their own words, and telling them what they would like to see changed.

Take HankChief, for example (@Hank_Chief on twitter). As he details on his blog, he started simply enough by inviting all his MSP candidates to Pedal on Parliament – easy enough to manage (we’ll be trying to collate lists of all the MSP candidates on the website soon enough to help out on that – and it looks like getting their twitter handles will be as important as email contact details…) – and he got three agreeing to turn up

Then an issue came up that he felt strongly about so he made contact again:

“When the SNP’s budget came out in December, I was disappointed that spending on Active Travel is flat year-on-year and still less than 2% of the Transport Budget, when their own target/aspiration is for 10% of journeys.

Of particular concern within the budget was the slashing of the “Cycling, Walking and Safer Routes” fund from £8m to £5.9m (bottom of http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/12/9056/16). This is one of the places that local authorities go to get money to match Sustrans money from the Community Links programme, so the reduction could make things really tricky for councils to get local schemes built.”

Again via Twitter, he got responses from three of his candidates:

Not exactly signing up to our three asks – but a good start, and making politicians aware that active travel is something that their constituents care about.

Roseburn to leith walk cycle route

Then a local issue came up – plans to run a protected cycle lane in Edinburgh from Roseburn to Haymarket and on into the West End. Great news for HankChief and his kids who would finally have a safe route to cycle to the city centre. Unfortunately, one of the councillors for the area was opposing these plans – and HankChief took to twitter to find out why

As HankChief puts it in his blog:

“It is disappointing that a councillor (and member of the Capital Coalition) is openly criticising a scheme put forward by the council. I understand the desire to represent constituents and that the businesses on Roseburn Terrace may be fearful if change to the streetscape. However, the impacts on loading & parking will have been considered by the design team and as noted in my last blog there is evidence that less customers arrive by cars than estimated by shopkeepers and cycle lanes can improve shops’ turnover by making it a more inviting/easier place.”
Finally, coming out of that discussion, HankChief has now organised a tour with some of his local candidates to look at the issues he and his family face directly.

We’ll let you know how HankChief and his candidates get on – but this does go to show how, as voters, we have more of a voice than we might think over the policies that affect us. You don’t have to set up a petition, or arrange a cycle tour, or go to all the lengths that Henry has done. Simply inviting them to Pedal on Parliament is the easiest and one of the more effective things you can do – or you can follow Spokes’s lead and ask them to reverse the budget cuts to active travel as a number of people have already done. And once the conversation has started, then who knows where it will go …

Cycling in Europe: Lessons for Scotland

International Comparator Study cover
Cycling Scotland’s International Comparator Study

In case you missed it – one of our supporting organisations, Cycling Scotland, brought out a report just after Christmas, based on lessons from five European countries, including the two with the highest rates of cycling in the developed world, the Netherlands and Denmark, along with Austria, Germany and Spain – countries with often a far more challenging climate (and hills!) than Scotland.

It’s a long report – with plenty of evidence about what other countries have done to increase cycling levels (or not!). We suggest you read it and make up your mind for yourself. As the report itself says, it’s hard to prove cause and effect over complex things like travel choices but the report’s authors have drawn some interesting conclusions:

“The evidence indicates that pro-cycling policy is an essential pre-condition to seeing change on the ground. However well-worded policy alone does not deliver the change; it needs to be backed by significant funding, principally in physical measures”

And also:

“Although it is not always easy to determine the quality of the measures installed, it is, nevertheless, possible to trace a positive general relationship between the length of cycle lanes/tracks and the amount of cycling.”

It would have been nice to see Scotland ranked alongside the other countries to get an impression of where we stand – but the report does draw some lessons for Scotland at the end. Two key points stand out for us (to quote from the report):

First

* Provision of better physical conditions for cycling is key to growing levels of cycling substantially

“the primary investment focus should be on enabling cycling through changing the physical environment (e.g. providing protected cycle tracks and/or managing motor traffic)”

This supports one of our three key asks: for conditions that enable everyone to cycle.

Second:

* The key measure of practical commitment to a pro-cycling policy is found in the funding support for cycling

“As a guide, the ECF has calculated that each 1% increase in cycling mode share requires an average of €0.8 per person per year. The 2010 figure for the Netherlands was around €25/head, for a 27% mode share”

This makes sense, as obviously you can’t significantly change the roads without substantial investment, esepcially when you consider what a long way behind we are from other countries in Northern Europe. So where does Scotland sit in all this? According to Spokes, the government is spending only £8.15 per head (£43.2m in total) on all active travel this year, and the figure is set to fall to £7.74 per head next year (an estimated £41m in total). Although a few local authorities commit some of their own cash to cycling and active travel, most of them do not, so the total figure is unlikely to be significantly higher.

We’re asking candidates at the coming election to commit 10% of the transport budget to active travel. Given that the total transport budget for the current year is £2,108m, rising to £2,215m for 2016/17, that would mean spending of £39.81 per head, rising to £41.83 next year for all active travel measures, given Scotland’s population of around 5m. If we assume that cycling makes up 50% of that it would come to around £19.91 per head this year and £20.92 next year – not far off the Dutch figure

Given the catching up we’ve got to do, that seems to us to be about right.

12 Space4Cycling days of Christmas

For a bit of fun over Christmas we thought we do the 12 days of Christmas song on Facebook and Twitter (we tried quite hard to make it scan but we don’t recommend you try and sing it). It gave us a chance to showcase the kinds of investment we’d like to see (at least for cycling – although many of these measures, like slower speeds and filtered permeability, will also benefit pedestrians of course). Some have garnered a bit of debate but most – and especially the last (or first) have been pretty popular, going by the amount of likes and retweets. So here it is on the 12th day, in full:

On the 12th day of Christmas, Space4Cycling means to me:

 

Twelve floating bus stops
Twelve floating bus stops
Eleven protected cycle tracks
Eleven protected cycle tracks
Ten protected junctions
Ten protected junctions
Nine Dutch-style roundabouts
Nine Dutch-style roundabouts
Eight contraflow bike lanes
Eight contraflow bike lanes
Seven well-lit bike lanes
Seven well-lit bike lanes
Six gritters gritting
Six gritters gritting
filtered permeability
Filtered permeabiliteeee
Four lowered speeds
Four lowered speeds
Three bike counters
Three bike counters
Two joined-up routes
Two joined-up routes
And a network my four-year-old can use
And a network my four-year-old can use

You can find more aspirational cycling infrastructure from around the world via the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’s Good Cycling Facility of the Week

What would the equivalent for walking be?