Calling all Scottish Cyclists: Let's Pedal on Parliament

Pedal on Parliament 2014 (Chris Hill CC)
What started as a one-off flash ride on the Scottish Parliament is now rapidly becoming an institution and part of the Scottish cycling calendar. Sally Hinchcliffe, one of the founding organisers, explains why this year's ride is just as important as the first.

It’s hard to believe it, but we’re in the throes of organising what will be the fourth Pedal on Parliament (POP). We started POP in 2012 as a Scottish version of the Big Ride on Westminster, realising transport is a devolved matter and hence Holyrood was the place we needed to influence. At the time, we were hopeful that a few hundred might turn up – and were blown away when in fact thousands did. But the first question almost everyone asked us was "so when will you do it again?" and then we realised we were in this for the long haul.

We started POP at a dark time for cycling in Scotland. Funding for active travel was falling and although politicians like to talk of a Scandinavian future, the likelihood of Scotland following in the footsteps of Denmark or even Sweden when it came to cycling looked pretty remote.

The much touted target of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020 was rapidly clarified as a ‘shared vision’ – shared with local authorities that, with the exception of a few councils like Edinburgh and Clackmannanshire, didn’t seem to have any real vision for cycling at all. Casualties on the road overall were going down – but rising among cyclists and pedestrians.

For all the freedoms Holyrood has to forge a distinctive future for Scotland, it seemed when it came to transport it was no different from the rest of the UK." 

Sally Hinchcliffe, Pedal on Parliament organiser and CTC Member

For all the freedoms Holyrood has to forge a distinctive future for Scotland, it seemed that when it came to transport it was no different from the rest of the UK. Indeed, with a road building programme prioritising dual carriageways, and motorways still being built in the heart of Glasgow, if anything it was more retrogressive.

We wanted to change things to make it possible for everyone to choose cycling without having to battle it out with fast traffic. In consultation with organisations like Sustrans, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and CTC we drew up an ambitious manifesto (below) with concrete provisions we could hold politicians to, rather than warm words about ‘supporting cycling’. As yet, no politician has actually signed on the dotted line – but we are starting to see the ship of state turn around.

So what has changed?

Well, this year we’ll see record sums invested in cycling – nothing near the levels needed, but well above the average spend per head for the rest of the UK. Spending is still short-term and relies on such ‘back-of-the-sofa’ finds as underspend on road building projects, but it is concentrated on infrastructure rather than just education and other soft measures.

Local authorities are competing to get their hands on the resulting cash, and that means they’re having to raise their game: drawing up proper cycling strategies if they want the best chance of getting hold of funds in the future. We’re also seeing lower speed limits spreading from Edinburgh’s first pilot areas to the whole city this year – with other towns and cities following suit.

More importantly, cycling is seen as a potential vote winner. We don’t underestimate the power of the motoring lobby – but it’s no longer seen as impossible to take space away from cars to provide for bikes. We’re slowly being included in the conversation about the future of Scotland’s roads, our towns and cities. They don’t normally like what we say, but we do at least get the chance to say it.

This does not mean the job is done. One pressing issue – apart from the continuing need for far more and sustained investment – is money being wasted on sub-standard infrastructure. Our cycling design standards were out of date when they were published, and even their minimal provisions lack teeth. Leith Walk in Edinburgh – supposedly a high-profile ‘exemplar’ facility for cycling  – has proved  to be the same old ‘door lane’ bike lanes, conflicting with parked cars.  The cycle paths to Glasgow’s brand new Southern General hospital are a mix of shared-use pavements and paint on the road.  

We are joining with the CTC to press for the principles of Space for Cycling, which would mean infrastructure that will be a joy to use – for everyone. Together with CTC members, and all our grass roots supporters, we know that we can build a cycle friendly Scotland.

We just need everyone to join us on 25 April in Edinburgh to remind our politicians of that fact.

Pedal on Parliament Manifesto:

  1. Proper funding for cycling (5% of the transport budget & 10% for active travel overall).
  2. Design cycling into Scotland’s roads.
  3. Slower speeds where people live, work and play
  4. Integrate cycling into local transport strategies
  5. Improved road traffic law and enforcement
  6. Reduce the risk of HGVs to cyclists and pedestrians
  7. A strategic and joined-up programme of road user training
  8. Improved statistics supporting decision-making and policy