Cycling


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.

 

Second reply, was some what longer, from Sarah Boyack MSP:

Thank you for your e-mail about funding for cycling infrastructure. The Scottish Government has recently announced its draft budget for 2015/16 which gives an indication on its intentions for cycling and active travel. I believe that making active travel options more accessible for everyone could help address the physical and mental health problems we face in Scotland. My party, Scottish Labour supports active travel and the encouragement of walking and cycling, as well as more generally the culture of active travel.

We are pleased that in the draft budget for 2015/16, the total budget for sustainable and active travel has increased by over 40% in real terms. We welcome this commitment. However, at this stage we don’t know the details of what this money will be spent on. We are pushing the SNP Government to confirm how this money will be allocated and, in particular, how much of it will be allocated to cycling infrastructure.

Under the transport portfolio, £25m is earmarked for support for sustainable and active travel while local government will be provided with £8m grant funding for cycling walking and safer routes. In its submission to the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee, Spokes also identified funding for active travel within the Future Transport Fund, Forth Bridge construction and trunk road budget lines. Based on Spokes’ estimates, the total funding specifically targeted at active travel in 2015/16 will be £37m, around £28m of which will be spent on infrastructure. This compares with Spokes estimates of £40.3m (total) and £36m (infrastructure) in 2014/15. That’s a big drop in investment.

I want to see increased, sustained year on year investment in infrastructure to encourage cycling so I welcome Edinburgh’s leadership with the council’s commitment to ensure continual, increasing investment in cycling. In 2012/13, 5% of the total transport budget went on cycling investment. In 2014/15, that had increased to 7%.

The Scottish Government needs to put in place proper funding and sustained investment. We need both dedicated facilities for cycling and better integration across our trunk and local road networks. Part of this process must be to ensure that the needs of cyclists are designed into our roads maintenance, our local transport strategies and our planning decisions so that routes and dedicated infrastructure such as parking facilities are designed with the needs of cyclists in mind.

In my campaign to be Scottish Labour Leader I published 100 Ideas for a New Scotland and suggested that we should also be looking at more segregated cycle routes.

Alongside considering cycling as a mode of transport, there are interesting opportunities to take a broader approach. I’m keen that the debate considers how cycling can help to address other Scottish Government goals such as physical activity targets and legacy initiatives attached to the 2014 Commonwealth Games as opportunities to set clear targets on cycling participation. Promoting cycling amongst school students is also crucial.

We need to promote safer road cycling opportunities generally as well as targeting specific cycle interest developments for sport and tourism.

We need a step change to deliver the increases in cycle participation that the Scottish Government want to achieve under the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland and I, along with my Labour Party colleagues will continue to press for investment in facilities and initiatives to make this a reality.

 

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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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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Just over five years ago (in September 2009) I wrote a blog post “Cycle parking, please can we have more…” in which I talked about the problems with lack of secure bicycle parking in Edinburgh. I flagged up issues the particular problems for tenement dwellers in Edinburgh, where storage is often a very real problem (as it is across most Scottish cities), added to which people living in tenement areas are less likely to own a car.

Three years ago things were looking positive as there where the first glimmerings of hope that something might actually be happening. There had been an announcement that City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) has proposed a Pilot of on-street residential cycle parking. I was one of the first to put in an application and waited with bated breath, well almost. As the closing date for application was December 2011, it seemed reasonable to expect that here might be something on the ground by the summer of 2012. In early May a letter arrived inviting all those who had applied to be a part of the trial parking project to a site meeting to consult on how it might work in practice. So it was that my self and one of my neighbours met with a number of officials, including the CEC’s cycling officer (Chris Brace), a CEC Project Engineer (Scott Mannion), one of the environmental manager (David Doig) and LBP Crime Prevention Officer (Carol Menzies). We had a wide ranging discussion, as we stood in the spring sun shine, covering all aspects of how that cycle parking (and its location) could affect the street, from accessibility to security, from refuse collection to turning space, and more. The meeting ended with a general consensus that the best location for the cycle storage was at the southern end of the street on the west side, on an area of concrete pavement which is currently just dead ground. It felt like something was really about to happen after two years of campaigning and lobbying, finally we were getting what was needed.

For a couple of months nothing happened, no information, nothing. In late July 2012 a letter arrived saying that the council was going to hold a written consultation for all residents in the street. A number of my neighbours came to ask me about this as they wanted to know more about the proposal, everyone I knew who lived in the street was in favour of the idea of having a secure cycle parking facility (even those who owned cars and those who didn’t own a bicycle). The written consultation was than followed with a series door to door interviews, and it was beginning to feel like someone at the Council was doing all they could to find an objector, so that they could stop the scheme (maybe I am being too cynical here).

Following all this consultation things went quite again until late June 2013 when another written consultation arrived, this time with plans showing the proposed location of the cycle storage on the opposite side of the street from that which residents said they wanted in the earlier consultation. I am told that there eleven responses to this consultation, all in favour of having the cycle storage on street and three saying explicitly that it should be on the far side of the street (the other made no comment on the location). One wonders why it is felt necessary to have quite to much “consultation” when they don’t bother to take notice of what the people who are going to live with the infrastructure actually have to say. It strikes me that a large amount of public money is wasted in this way.

Move forward to June 2014 and the City Council break their radio silence again with a letter to say that three different types of secure on street cycle storage across five locations across the city. The three types of storage chosen were the Cyclehoop Fietshangar, Cycle-Works Velo-Box lockers and Cycle-Works Streetstores (the latter a somewhat experimental design to judge by their website where there are several different prototype designs shown). The letter went on to say that the installation would be completed by the end of July 2014.

By this time I was starting to feel I would only believe when I saw it, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when I was told of shiny new Cyclehoop Fietshangars had been sighted in the city!

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

Then came the news that Cycle-Works Velo-Safe lockers had also been sighted.

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

This was real progress at last! But wait where were the Cycle-Works Streetstores? There was no sign of them anywhere and again silence from the City Council, after some prompting there was a few vague comments that they were coming soon. July turned to August, the Festival came and went, September, still nothing, then finally in October Streetstores were sighted for the first time!

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

How does the scheme actually work? Now there’s a question I keep getting asked, well, places in the cycle storage is offered to first to residents living within 100m of the stores. Only two places per flat are allowed per flat (which is rather unfair on students living in Houses in Multiple Occupation or HMOs) and place are allocated on a first come first serve basis. Each person gets a gets an individual contract and must give the details of the bicycle they are intending to store. The contract also states that the storage can only be used to store “a security-tagged bicycle belonging to or in the care of the member”, later in the contract it talks of bicycles with a permit and displaying a permit sticker.

As to costs and pricing, the contract states that “during the period of the Scheme the Council will not make a charge for participation in the Scheme. The Council may bring the pilot Scheme to an end on giving 14 days’ notice to the Members, and thereafter charge the Member for continued participation in a new scheme and take a deposit for the access key”. Nowhere, in the contract does it give any indication of how long the pilot Scheme will run for, nor is there any mention of how much the charge might be in the future. Elsewhere, it has been stated that the “cycle parking would be … trialled for around 2 years“. Also “It is expected that there would be a charge of around £5 per month per user for the use of the covered storage options to help cover running costs”. This would mean that it would cost £60 a year to park a bicycle compared with £31.50 to park low emission car in the same permit zone. When you bear in mind that 10 bicycle can be accommodated in the space required for one car, this seems rather excessive, no doubt the Council will say that this reflects cost of maintaining the cycle storage, whilst Blythe ignoring the costs involved in controlling car parking in the city. If the council are to introduce such a high charge for cycle parking, then it would only be reasonable that all subsidies for car parking be dropped and that the cost of car parking be brought up to a matching level.

 

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I recently came across Dublin Cycling Stories, which is a series of short portraits of people who use bikes to get around Dublin. These films were made with support from the Dublin Cycling Campaign and Dublin City Council. The site is inspiring in many ways and there are lessons here for Edinburgh. After all, Dublin and Edinburgh are capital cities of a similar size, both are emerging cycling cities, although Dublin is way ahead of Edinburgh, as we shall see.

Where Dublin has got it right, and where other emerging cycling cities should take note, is that the influencers in the city have made it a priority to promote the Cycling Stories as a normal way of life for Dubliners, and not just a fringe lifestyle for the brave few. These short films were made to show the world how gloriously easy, fun and sexy a bike ride can be, what a great idea!

Let’s start with Lisa’s story, the young mum taking her child to nursery …

… this shows that cycling can be easy and fun, something that both mother and daughter enjoy.

Then there is Paul’s story, he uses a bicycle for work …

… as a photographer he has to carry equipment about with him, but he can easily do so by bike and it’s obvious that going by bike has many advantages over using a car.

For a bit of contrast we have Julie’s story…

… she’s a student and tells us about how cycling gives her freedom (and how hills aren’t really a problem).

Next, we have Georgia’s story, showing how easy and sociable cycling can be as a way of getting about the city …

… in Georgia’s story we see clearly how far ahead Dublin is of Edinburgh in terms of infrastructure.

The film shows Dublin as having a connected network of cycle paths, where space has been taken from motor vehicles. Edinburgh is only just beginning to timidly experiment with this on George Street …

George Street, Edinburgh

… although in true Edinburgh fashion, they have only gotten half way through doing it, then downed tools for the Festival. George Street looks great, but doesn’t actually connect with anything at either end and is not part of a direct route to go anywhere, showing a frustrating lack of thought about cycling as a means of transport by the planners (and they call themselves transport professionals?).

Another thing that is different in Dublin, compared with Edinburgh, is evident from the dublinbikes story …

… Dublin claims to have the most successful bike share scheme in Europe. Edinburgh has yet to dabble with a bike share scheme, although such schemes have been real game changers in other cities. Will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme?

Well let’s just say that Rob Grisdale, MD of nextbike UK was sighted in Edinburgh yesterday, and he wasn’t here to do the festival (although I am told, he did manage to take in a show or two). So will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme? Given the City of Edinburgh Council’s desire to remain stuck firmly in the 1980’s it would seem not, but as Stirling is showing, the council doesn’t have to be in the lead, it could be a forward-looking social enterprise that takes the lead. I am not going to say more here, but there are ideas forming.

Possibly the greatest lesson these films have for Edinburgh (or indeed other cities) is that by promoting positive images of average people using the humble bicycle as a means of transportation, cycling can be used to “humanize” the city. In the last century the coming of the car brutalised our cities, now in the 21st century, civic leaders are starting to recognize the importance of the bicycle to creating living cities of the new millennium – the ones which embrace multi-modal transportation.

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