Claudia Beamish is one of Scotland South’s MSP – and has just become one of the deputy convenors of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Cycling Group. She was going to meet with local cyclists during PoP but unfortunately was unable to make it due to illness. However, after PoP she met with me to discuss cycling and Cycling Dumfries, and agreed to write the following for the website.
At the start of May, thousands of cyclists descended on Edinburgh to take part in the second Pedal on Parliament campaign event.
The strength of support on the day, and the positive media coverage that followed, sends a clear message to MSPs like me that cycling is a priority for a great many Scots. The challenge now of course, is to turn that awareness into action.
The second PoP event was prompted by frustration at the perceived lack of action following the original PoP ride in 2012. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend this year due to ill-health but campaigners should take heart from the fact that this year’s ride attracted an increased number of representatives from Council, Scottish and UK Parliament level.
People are beginning to sit up and take notice of the campaign’s call for action to turn Scotland into a cycle-friendly nation and its eight point manifesto makes an important and constructive contribution towards that debate.
In its Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, the Scottish Government has set the ambitious target that 10% of all journeys should be made by bike by 2020. When you consider that the level of journeys made by bike has languished at around 1% in recent decades the scale of the challenge becomes apparent.
As Pedal on Parliament has made clear a change of culture is needed to deliver this ambition.
Part of this change is in the perception we have of cyclists. I, like so many people, have fond memories of playing on my bike as a child. Unfortunately, again like so many of us, my interest waned for many years as I moved into adulthood. Cycling seems to have an image problem that prevents so many from make the progression from playing as a child to seeing the bike as a form of transport, leisure and sporting pursuit.
Part of the reason behind this is undoubtedly the many barriers that dissuade us from cycling. By far and away the most pressing concern, is road safety. Whether it is busy urban streets or winding, narrow rural roads, people are wary of the risks of riding amongst traffic. When I finally began cycling again, I had to build myself up from the small country roads to the frankly scary prospect of Edinburgh city centre. Over time my confidence has increased but it is still a daunting prospect to come up against heavy traffic in rush hour.
Alongside road safety, there is a lack of associated infrastructure to support cycling. Things like bike racks for instance are a rare sight in Scotland, save for outside schools. Without somewhere safe to store bikes, cycle theft becomes an issue and people are therefore further inclined not to cycle.
It is not that these and other barriers do not exist in countries which have a more embedded cycling culture but they have taken steps to address them through.
That is at the heart of much of what Pedal on Parliament is calling for – a more integrated approach to cycling that gives cyclists due prominence when it comes to designing roads, planning new developments and developing transport strategy. I have repeatedly raised these issues and the need for proper funding to support cycling to the Scottish Government.
Their Cycling Action Plan for Scotland is part of that process with prominence given to skills development and improving the National Cycle Network. These are two key areas. In skills and development, we need to see greater focus on cycle training, particularly at school, to get young people cycling safely. There is also a need for training to lure adults back on the saddle. The National Cycle Network is an excellent resource but there is room for improvement with a more joined up approach to ensure that the national routes link up with local ones.
The key to this is greater involvement from local authorities through the development of cycling action plans for their areas. Some authorities, like Edinburgh have already taken this approach in partnership with other partners like the NHS. This has allowed for a strategic vision of how the city will develop resources for cycling to improve uptake. I would like to see other areas following suit across the country.
These are the types of issues that are frequently discussed as part of the Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Cycling of which I am a Deputy Convener.
The profile of cycling has never been higher with the success of British cyclists at the Olympics and the Tour de France and this provide additional momentum to calls for action. From my time in Parliament, I can see that cycling and active travel more broadly are subjects which enjoy broad cross-party support. The challenge now is to deliver on that warm sentiment to deliver the step change needed to turn Scotland into a cycle friendly nation.
Claudia Beamish, MSP
Obviously, Cycling Dumfries is an entirely non-party political organisation, so in the interest of fairness we’re happy to put up statements from any of our MSPs (or any of our local politicians) – in fact we’ll be writing to them to suggest it.