Spokes the Lothian Cycle Campaign group is always on the look out for opportunities to increase the funding of everyday cycling in Scotland. So when they spotted that the Scottish Government is about to receive a £213m boost as a result of the UK Chancellor’s Autumn Budget Statement (thanks to the so-called “Barnett consequentials”). Finance Secretary John Swinney MSP has said £125m of it will go to the NHS, but the remainder is not yet allocated. As the Scottish government will decide very soon, possibly in the next few days or certainly the next few weeks, how to use this money. They suggested that people should write to their MSP’s to suggest that some of this money should be used to invest in cycling infrastructure.

I took the opportunity write to all my MSP’s, and this is what I wrote:

Dear MSPs,

Repeated studies have shown that increasing rates of Active Travel, walking and cycling, for short journeys (and the majority of every day journeys are under 5 miles), have a positive impact on the health and well being of the population as a whole. Not only is Active Travel good for health, it is good for the economy too. Not only does it provide jobs directly, but also people who arrive at work via active means are more productive and take less sick leave. Infrastructure improvements to encourage Active Travel are also cheap and quick to implement, but they do need to be properly funded to achieve their full potential.

In his speech on 9th October 2014 the Finance Secretary, John Swinney, made a promise that the Scottish Government would spend “an additional
£10 million next year for cycling and walking infrastructure”. However, it has subsequently emerged that £5m had in fact been pre-announced in June and that the other £5m is not actually for is not even for walking and cycling. It is for car sharing, bus ticketing incentives, bus shelters and so on, not directly on Active Travel. Therefore unless Mr Swinney is able to find the additional money from somewhere else his promise to Parliament will have been bogus.

The UK government has recently announced £214m additional cycling investment in England. At the same time the Scottish Government will receive £123m in Barnet consequentials, this gives Mr Swinney the opportunity to make good on his promise to Parliament made on the 9th October 2014. Please urge Mr Swinney to take this opportunity to make good on his promise.

Yours sincerely,

Kim

 

I will list the replies as the come in below:

The first reply comes from Cameron Buchanan MSP:

Dear Ms Harding,

Thank you very much for your message. I agree with you about the importance of cycling – it should be encouraged wherever possible. I also agree that misleading announcements by the SNP, of which there are many, should be called out.

I will continue to advocate cycle-friendly policies in Parliament and in this your points are most welcome. Furthermore, I will be questioning the Scottish Government in Parliament today, when I will ask if they have any plans to increase investment in cycling infrastructure.

I hope you find this response helpful.

 

Who will be next?

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Suz: What do horses say?
Seb: Hello

It was the quote of the day, but then Seb is only three and so is entitled to a logic all of his own. Ulli and I were out for a wee ride with an old Uni friend of mine and her son. It might have been the end of November, but it was a glorious day for seeing East Lothian by bike. Suzanne and Sebastian met us at the station in Dunbar. The plan was to ride from Dunbar to North Berwick along the new John Muir Way cycle route, allowing Sebastian to ride his balance bike whenever it was safe to do so, well that was the plan.

Exiting the station, the first issue arose: trying to explain to Sebastian why it wasn’t safe for a three year old to ride from the station out to the edge of town. He wasn’t entirely happy about this, and who can blame him, he had been told he was going out for a ride and now he was told it wasn’t safe. “But why isn’t it safe?” he kept asking. Good question Seb, mainly because a few selfish adults in cars think that they are far more important than children (or even adults) on bikes and they drive badly. However, this is rather a difficult concept to get across to a three year old, and it took a little time for him to reluctantly accept that he would have to travel, at least part of the way, in bike trailer.

Getting out of town proved to be a fraught experience with numpty drivers trying to overtake on blind bends and in other inappropriate places. As a former fully qualified driving instructor I am shocked by the poor standard of driving I see on the roads. Certainly there were a few who could do with taking some driving lessons and learning how to overtake safely.

The town finally exited, we found ourselves on an offroad path with great views and space for Sebastian to show off his skills on his balance bike. Meanwhile I was grabbing some photos.

St Andrew's Day, Dunbar

View to the Bass Rock from Dunbar

By the time we time we had gotten to the end of the motor traffic free bit it was time for Sebastian to go back into the trailer. Fortunately by this time he was tired enough not to object and was happy to climb back into the trailer and take a nap while mum did all the work. This was fortunate as the route took us onto (what is euphemistically called) a shared use path. Now as regularly readers of this blog will know, Ulli and I have travelled a fair bit on the continent of Europe, and nowhere have we ever come across a path so narrow that it could only take a cycle trailer being called a shared use path. But this is family friendly East Lothian, where things are different.

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

VisitScotland has recently woken up to the concept of cycle tourism, but sadly Scottish transport planners haven’t (yet). If Scotland is ever going to achieve its potential as a family friendly tourist destination, it is going to have to do a lot better than this.

Crossing minor roads was also the sort of experience that you wouldn’t come across on the mainland either…

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Not far from this crossing, we came across a field of Scottish road engineers and transport planners…

Of cabbages and traffic planners

Need I say more?

About this time Seb woke up, hungry, and informed us that he would like to have a ham sandwich. It soon became apparent that wee Sebastian is a follower of the Zoroastrian tradition whereby the repeated chanting can will an object into existence. He is obviously an advanced three year old, or maybe just a three year old. Either way, turning off to find a farm shop where we could source some bread and ham was a relief, especially to Suzanne. Near the farm shop there were an number of happy chickens happy wandering about a field (blissfully unaware of what was sold in the shop). On seeing them, Seb gave a perfect impersonation of a chicken. A short way further do the farm track we passed a field with horses in it, at which point Suzanne asked Sebastian what horses say, he replied “Hello”, bless.

The road past the farm was delightfully free of motor traffic, which might have had something to do with the river crossing half way along.

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Fortunately there was a footbridge to allow crossing, it was narrow (only just enough space for the trailer) and slippery, but it was the easier way to get across the river.

By now we were all getting hungry and it had, due to the poor infrastructure, taken far longer than we had expected to get as far as we had. We decided there was no way we would make North Berwick for lunch and so decided that the Tearoom at Smeaton Nursery (on the edge of East Linton) was a more realistic goal. Access to Smeaton Nursery was very muddy, but going in via the delivery entrance (being a Sunday) was mercifully traffic free.

Suitably fed, we decided that, as the day light was getting short, we should head back to Dunbar, but by a more direct rate route along the NCN 76 rather than the John Muir Way. However, this wasn’t without issue either. Trying to access one of the traffic free sections, we found that the western most set of bollards had been set too close together to get the trailer through, and Suzanne was forced to squeeze round the outside.

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

At the second set of bollards at the eastern end, the trailer was able to pass with about 5 cm to spare, likely not by design but by chance, as no thought had been given to the users in the planning process. The lack of professional competence of British road engineers and transport planners is something which needs to be addressed with some urgency. It is not that they can’t do it, it is more that they lack the training in planning for Active Travel and don’t think about it. The “profession” is totally fixated on motor vehicles and seemingly incapable of understanding the need of non-motorised traffic (for the origins of the word traffic). Earlier this year I tried to set up a CPD workshop for road engineers and transport planners, bringing in a Dutch/Danish consortium to do the training. I was shocked to find that the Professional Officers felt that they didn’t need such training, as they already knew everything they needed to know about providing for active travel.

Overall, I really enjoyed the day out, it is good to get out on the bike with friends. But was saddened by the lack of provision to make this easy for families. It doesn’t have to be this way, as I have seen on my travels on the mainland of Europe, where people expect and enjoy a better quality of life. Why should families be expected to accept second best? Why are we in Scotland not looking to take full advantage of the economic benefit of Active Travel? OK, VisitScotland are just starting to wake up to the fact that cycle tourism in Europe is worth in excess of €44,000,000,000 a year (the overall economic benefits of cycling are at least €205,000,000,000 p.a.), and Scotland is missing out on most of that. In fact our car dependent culture is costing us billions of pounds per year and has a highly negative impact not just on our quality of life, but our longevity, too.

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You might not realise it, but today is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, which takes place on the third Sunday in November every year as the appropriate acknowledgement of victims of road traffic crashes and the victims’ families. It is estimated, worldwide, that 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes each year and as many as 50 million are injured. I was going to list all the people I have personally known who have died on the roads, members of my extended family, friends and acquaintances. But by the time I had got to 20, I was finding it all too depressing and so abandoned the idea. Too much loss, too much pain.

The theme for this year is “Speed kills – design out speeding”

For some years now, along with the Pedal on Parliament campaign group, I have been advocating the idea that the statutory speed limit for built up areas in Scotland should be lowered from 30mph to 20mph. This would undoubtedly save lives and make Scotland a better place to live. Not only would it be relatively cheap to do, but it is also within the gift of the Scottish Parliament. The power to vary speed limits was devolved, along with the power to vary the drink-driving limits, as part of the Scotland Act (2012). The Scottish Parliament has exercised the power to change the drink-drive limit, from 5th December 2014 the permitted blood alcohol limit for drivers will be cut from 80mg to 50mg in every 100ml of blood. This has to be a good thing. However, the powers to vary speed limits has, so far, only been used to raise the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles using the A9. This is a retrograde step as Holyrood does not have the power to change the Laws of Physics, and therefore this will in no way make the A9 a safer road.

As I have said elsewhere, it has been known for well over 30 years that, as traffic speed increases, so does the risk to pedestrians:

  • Hit by a car at 20 mph, 3% of pedestrians will be killed – 97% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 30 mph, 20% of pedestrians will be killed – 80% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 35 mph, 50% of pedestrians will be killed – 50% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 40 mph, 90% of pedestrians will be killed – 10% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 50 mph, >99% of pedestrians will be killed – <1% will survive
At 20mph just 3% of pedestrians or cyclists are killed

The difference just a few miles per hour makes

Many drivers don’t think about the fact that at 30 mph, a vehicle travels 44ft (roughly three car lengths) every second and at 20mph a vehicle travels 29.3ft (roughly two car lengths). The average reaction time of drivers is between 1 and 1.5 seconds. Then it takes time to actually stop, and to stop safely drivers have to think ahead rather than just try to react to the situation. Lowering the speed limit allows drivers more time to think and therefore reduces the frequency of accidents collisions. There are people out there who think that they are a good drivers and that it wouldn’t happen to them – I would suggest that they read about the experiences of this Hertfordshire GP, who used to think it wouldn’t happen to him.

Once again, I call on the Scottish Government to lower the statutory speed limit in built up areas from 30mph to 20mph, this will save lives. If you agree with me write to your MSPs today and tell them so.

This post also appears on the Pedal on Parliament website, in a slightly modified form.

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I was irked this morning by the way the BBC Radio 4 Today programme was reporting the changes in pesticide regulations. It was the way that the report was phrased that particularly annoyed me, it was as if only British farmers would be affected by these changes in regulations, rather than farmers across the whole EU. This struck me that this sort of biased reporting by the British media that is driving a lot of the narrow minded xenophobic attitudes which appear to be becoming more prevalent in this country.

Maybe I am being over pedantic, but had they reported this change in regulations as being something that will have an impact across the whole EU (which they will) and then go on to look at a local example of how it would affect a British farmer, it would have come across as a far less biased and anti European. It is also notable that there has been very little discussion or analysis of why the regulations are changing, it is merely reported as a random decision made by some distant “EU bureaucrats” with no input from people across Europe.

This is far from the truth, these changes in the regulations on pesticides have not been driven by some monolithic super state bureaucracy, but (rightly or wrongly) by a grass roots campaign across Europe, run largely by Greenpeace. Therefore, they are due to democratic pressure from across Europe, with the agreement of elected representatives from across Europe, and yes our Government did have a say in it. Whether there has truly been an open, honest and fully informed debate over the issue around the use of pesticide, is another matter (and one for another blog post).

The point is that words matter, and clear unbiased reporting matters in a democracy. Here in is the strength and the weakness of democracy, in order for democracy to work it is needs and informed and engaged citizens. For citizens to be well informed they need to be educated and have access to enough information to be able to have a have an informed debate on the issues before decisions are made.

In the EU in order to have a common market there is a need to have a uniform set of regulations across the whole market. Without a common set of regulations there can be no common market. There are those who will insist that there should be no regulation of markets, but the evidence shows that unregulated markets are less efficient and frequently crash, as fraud takes over.

Ultimately Britain has benefited from being a part of the EU and having access to the rest of Europe. However, if Britain is to remain a part of the EU, British citizens need to be better informed about what is happening in the rest of Europe, and what their Government is doing in their name. For this to happen we need clear unbiased reporting and sadly that is something which we getting less and less from the British media.

 

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Following on from my last post after five years the on street cycle storage has finally arrived and so have the first set of keys.

Cycle storage now in use

It was interesting standing in the street talking about the cycle storage with a council officer and seeing the number of people coming up and asking how they could get a key. Apparently there is already a waiting list of places, even though many of the people living in the street don’t even know what the cycle storage are as they have not seen them opened before. I get the distinct feeling there will soon be demand for more!

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