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Your views wanted on Active Travel

Your views wanted on Active Travel

The Scottish Parliament’s Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee is holding an inquiry into “Active Travel – walking and cycling”. The Committee is keen to hear your views on walking and cycling. The Scottish Government says that it would like to see 10% of journeys being by bicycle by 2020.

The formal remit of the Committee’s inquiry is to consider – the progress being made in developing active travel; any barriers to further progress; and the further action that may be required by the Scottish Government, local authorities and other bodies to ensure that significant progress is made in the development and implementation of active travel in Scotland.

You are invited to respond to the issues identified by the Committee and posed in the six questions below. You are free to answer as many or as few of these questions as you wish.

The six questions:

  1. What more can be done to encourage people to change their travelling habits and walk and cycle more?
  2. Is enough progress being made in developing and delivering improvements in the uptake of walking and cycling?
  3. If not, what are the barriers to progress? (for example, lack of policy development, lack of political leadership, lack of funding/investment, the lack of prominence given to active travel in transport policy development, project planning and construction etc.)
  4. Why do walking and cycling policies set out in national, regional and local transport plans not result in a greater modal share for walking and cycling?
  5. What further action is required by the Scottish Government, local authorities and other bodies to ensure that significant progress is made in the development and implementation of walking and cycling, particularly if transport is to make a greater and more meaningful contribution to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions?
  6. What can Scotland learn from good practice/successful implementation in other countries?

The closing date for written submissions is Friday 11 December 2009. To make things easier I created a MS Word doc file you can down load here (16kb).

They ask that before you submit your views, that you read their policy for handling information received in response to calls for evidence (pdf 15kb). Information you provide will be treated according the Scottish Parliament’s privacy and data policy. Your views may be published by the Parliament and will be treated as a public document unless you indicate other. Your views will be made available to the Committee. For more information see here.

Food waste and climate change.

Food waste and climate change.

There was a report on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, that in Britain 6.7m tonnes of food were thrown away every year. The report went on to say “most of the waste food goes into landfill sites, where it breaks down and causes greenhouse gases”. As an ecologist (I have a BSc in Ecological Science and an M. Phil. in Plant Ecology), I immediately saw the flaw in this argument, the breakdown of food waste is a natural part of the carbon cycle and is not going to have any effect on climate change.

There is a real problem with policy makes and journalists not understanding carbon emissions and climate change. It is the release of fossil carbon, mainly from burning fossil fuels, that is causing the problems with climate change. It is the transport and storage of food that is the main contribution to carbon emissions, nagging consumers and supermarkets about food waste is unlikely to achieve much in the way of reductions. A much more effective approach would be to tax fossil carbon usage and to bring in a system of limits on fossil carbon usage, such are carbon credits and carbon trading.

Heavy Snow

Heavy Snow

The news on the BBC has been dominated by stories about “heavy snow” affecting England and Wales. Apparently snow fall of up to 15cm (yes a whole 15cm!!) have brought large parts of England to a grinding halt. Why?

When I hear of “heavy snow” I think back to winters past.

In February 2001 I got up one morning to find there had been a blizzard overnight and there was 1m of snow lying outside. At that time I was working at the Bush Estate near Edinburgh (home to a number of research institutes and a very famous sheep), and before setting out to work I decided to phone and check that the roads were clear out there. Instead of getting a ringing tone, I heard an error message and deduced, rightly, from this that the storm must have brought down the power line and the building would be closed. When I went in the next day, I found that there was a large “snow sculpture” by the bus stop. A number of my colleges, who hadn’t checked before catching the bus the day before, had arrived to find the building closed and had an hour to wait for the bus home, so they built the “snow sculpture” to keep themselves busy. After all, a meter of snow in winter in Scotland is not considered to be unusual, yet.

Thinking further back, I remember in my youth, when I was living in Sussex, taking great delight in taking out my bike and cycling through 18” (about 45cm) of fresh snow. This was great fun, although I did need to stop every so often to clear the snow from under the mudguards. The road which my family lived on was unadopted, so the local authority never cleared it. Consequently when it snowed, the snow was not cleared and was packed down by cars driving over it. When I came to learn to drive, I leaned under true winter conditions and have been happy driving in snow ever since.

Another winter in Sussex, I was working through a temp agency and found myself working on the bins. We were welcomed in the small villages, as the dustbin lorry was the first outside agency to arrive since the snow had started. In one house, the occupiers had had to climb out of an upstairs window in order to clear the snow from their front door. The snow had drifted up against the front of the house, covering the door and windows.

The most impressive snow drifts I have ever seen were in Norway. In the 1980’s I lived and worked on a farm in western Noway for three summers. In April 1985 I hitch hiked from Oslo to Hardanger. When I set out from Oslo, I was expecting to have to catch a train from Geilo, as the road to Eidfjord across the Hardangervidda was normally closed in winter. Instead, I was surprised to find the road open. That winter they had started using new snow blowing technology, and for the first time in history the road was kept open all winter. It was truly impressive, in places the road passed though 4m high snow drifts, it is something I will never forget.

So when I hear the BBC talking about 15cm (6”) as “heavy snow”, I can’t help thinking it ridiculous. As I have found from recent experience, I know that at least 20cm (8”) of snow is needed to form a ski piste and this amount never stops the skiers getting to the pistes. Let’s keep a sense of proportion. The major problem is that people are too reliant on cars, buses are better able to cope with the snow. If more people were to use public transport (and more effort was made to maintain public transport infrastructure), there would be less congestion and less vulnerability to such events.

Here in Edinburgh there has been very little snow so far this winter, but the weather forecast says that is about to change…

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