City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Scottish Cyclists Feeling a Little More Love

By edg - Posted on 14 February 2012

Cyclists salute at Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh cyclists have been feeling a little more loved after recent decisions at two levels of government - local and Scottish - on the amount of money being budgeted for cycling in coming years.

In Edinburgh, the Council committed to spending "a minimum of 5%" of its transport budget on cycling last week and to increase it by 1% each year. As some have already said, it's a landmark for Scottish cycling. "The City of Edinburgh is...setting the standard for towns and cities across Scotland," said John Lauder of active travel charity SUSTRANS.

Here's what the ECC budget statement says (p.19): "Council agrees that the percentage of transport spend (net of specifically allocated external transport funding) allocated to cycling shall be a minimum of 5%, for both revenue and capital, in 2012/13 and that the percentage of spend on cycling will increase by 1% annually. Council therefore instructs the Director of Services for Communities to provide a report to a meeting of the TIE Committee in September each year detailing, the allocation of cycle funding, progress towards the Council's Charter of Brussels commitments, and progress on the cycle aspects of the ATAP <Active Travel Action Plan>."

The Council's Charter of Brussels commitment is to increase cycling to at least a 15% of the modal split of all trips by 2020. Latest (2009) figures put cycling in Edinburgh at around 5%-9%, so a few more percentage points would seem to be quite a realistic target.

Local bicycle advocacy group SPOKES says: "It seems like we are in a virtuous circle with cycling infrastructure and initiatives leading to greater interest in using a bike to get around, with that in turn encouraging the council to act on its targets and its ambitions to grow cycle use. The new investment will hopefully feed this exciting trend."

Of course, we are also nearing an election on 3rd May, and all candidates for council will be looking to woo the cyclist vote.

But that's not to take away from the achievement: decades of lobbying by cyclists - much of it slow graft over details of infrastructure - is paying off and, in spite of or perhaps because of some of the natural deterrants (hills, weather), Edinburgh is setting an example to other local authorities.

I discovered this first hand last month when a member of staff from a Yorkshire authority contacted me about using our video of the Innocent Cycleway for a presentation to councillors on how they might open up a local disused railway tunnel for cycling and walking.

The squeaky wheel...

Cyclists' concerns that the Scottish Government's would cut funding for cycling and walking in 2012/13 have been somewhat alleviated. The way that the figures for the Active Travel funding were presented in the draft budget has made it difficult to parse, but SPOKES estimated that the Scottish Government was on course to cut the budget in almost half to 0.63% by 2013-14.

The Scottish Government's ambition is that "by 2020, 10% of all journeys taken in Scotland will be by bike” (see Cycling Action Plan, June 2010), but its ardour for the modest two-wheeller seemed to be coolling.

Much heated debate, letter writing, and lobbying ensued: around 350 cyclists demonstrated outside the government offices at St Andrew's House, questions were raised in the Scottish Parliament. and SPOKES reported that they had a "surprisingly constructive" meeting with Transport Minister Keith Brown.

The net result was that, in the final budget, the Finance Secretary John Swinney reversed the cuts to some extent with the announcement of an additional £13 million for Sustainable and Active Travel.

It may still be a drop in terms of the proportion of the overall transport budget, and Swinney also announced that a further £72 million will be pumped into roads (on top of the additional increase of £100 million last year, mostly for the new Forth Replacement Crossing), but it was a distinct improvement on what might have been.