You may have heard that the Scottish Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, and the Deputy First Minister John Swinney are coming down to Dumfries & Galloway on Monday for a “transport summit” with councillors, SWESTRANS, and various other organisations. Here’s the agenda – set by the Scottish Government:
- Ports / Freight / Roads
Given that this is billed as being about the local economy, you might well wonder where active travel is on the agenda. For why wouldn’t the Scottish Government want to discuss with local stakeholders something that boosts tourism, improves health, reduces transport poverty and could even help make the rural bus service more viable? And yet it seems that when it comes to cycling (and walking) we will continue to be a forgotten corner of Scotland.
As a rural area, of course cars are going to be an important part of the transport mix, but they shouldn’t be the be all and end all. We have so little rail left in the region that the railways are never going to do much for day to day transport – and trying to serve a scattered rural population by bus is always going to be hard. So cycling offers the only real alternative for a lot of journeys (more than 60% of all car journeys in the region are less than five kms – a distance that can easily be covered by anyone on a bike, even if you’re not that fit). But that means investing in the cycling network – creating routes that feel safe even for people cycling with their children.
Investments like the new hospital, new schools and other schemes all need to have cycling and walking built in from the start. And yet the council are still refusing to put in a safe crossing to the hospital and are now digging in their heels about putting a crossing at Alloway Road to make it easier for children to get to the new school in Lochside. Elsewhere in Scotland, Edinburgh is investing in a city-wide 20 mph network (contrast with the tiny zone in Dumfries where you’d be hard pressed to get up to 30 anyway unless you floored it), while Glasgow is getting £3.5 million to build a new cycle route into town. Summits like this should be about bringing the best that Scotland has to offer to all areas, not just the central belt. Instead, this one seems to be about perpetuating car dependency in the region.
There’s still time to write to your MSPs and ask them to raise these and other issues (like the fact that, more than a year after the Active Travel Strategy was put in place, there still hasn’t been any consultation with groups over prioritising routes or investment). Let’s make sure their inbox isn’t only about dual carriageways, but about genuine transport choice …