What has POP Scotland ever done for us?

Pedal on Parliament in 2014: Flickr CC, Chris Hill

What has POP Scotland ever done for us?

Pedal on Parliament (POP) is now in its fifth year and there are times when its organisers wonder if it's all worth it. Campaigner, author and organiser Sally Hinchcliffe explains why it is.

Getting several thousand people, and their bikes, assembled in Edinburgh every year is a giant undertaking for a group of volunteers, however committed, and it takes many sleepless nights, anxious days and hundreds upon thousands of emails to organise. This Saturday morning will see us standing at the Meadows in Edinburgh wondering not just if anyone will turn up - but whether anything will change if they do.

This year is the first Holyrood election that has been held since we've started pedalling on parliament. As well as organising POP, I'm part of the Cycling UK supported We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote campaign and as such I have had a front row view of the political parties' and candidates' promises as they have come in. So now seems an excellent opportunity to take stock of how the political landscape has changed during those five years for cycling and active travel more generally - and to see just how far we've come - and how far we've yet to go. 

Looking back at Spokes' election analysis at the time, back in 2011, the only party making a substantial commitment to funding cycling was the Greens. The Conservatives mentioned cycling only under sport, Labour and the Lib Dems talked about increasing funding but didn't put a figure on it, and the SNP were promising a massive £10m a year on 'low carbon and active travel' - a promise which was then promptly under threat when its first draft budget came out with massive cuts to cycle spending.

It was this which triggered the very first Pedal on Parliament back in 2012 - which in turn reversed those planned cuts and started the steady increase in spending on active travel which the SNP are so keen to highlight in their current manifesto

"We have put in place record investment in cycling and walking and will continue to do so over the life of the next Parliament."

Nor are the SNP the only ones to have changed their tune. The Conservatives [] are promising a segregated cycle track in every city in Scotland (although how they will pay for it with just an extra £5m going to local authorities for cycling and walking will be interesting).

The Lib Dems are promising an extra £20m of investment and bringing design guidelines up to international standards. Labour haven't produced a manifesto yet, but argued in the last parliament for 1% of the trunk road budget to be transferred to active travel. And the Greens are holding firm to their pledge of 10% of the transport budget as well as support for presumed liability. 

And we're seeing changes on the ground too.

Up until the last few years in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, the bulk of the cycle network consisted of advisory painted lanes on the roads and off-road paths along disused railway lines or alongside canals.

It's only in recent years that actual space has started to be taken from the roads to create direct, safe, separated cycle routes - in Edinburgh (the Meadows to Innocent path), in Glasgow (the South West City Way), and in East Dunbarton (the Bears Way) - with more planned, including an ambitious East-West cycle route in Edinburgh that will finally bring bikes safely and fairly directly into the city centre.

We may not quite yet have convinced politicians to invest in active travel for its own sake...but 'the cyclists' have at least become an unignorable pressure group."

Sally Hinchcliffe, Cycling UK member and POP organiser

None of these are of the standard of the Cycle Superhighways which are finally being built in London, but they represent a major step forward for Scotland. 

We know - because we have been told - that it has been POP's visible and persistent support for cycling investment and infrastructure that has given politicians, local and national, the courage to take these steps and court the controversy that inevitably comes when road space is removed to make way for bikes.

We may not quite yet have convinced politicians to invest in active travel for its own sake, because of the many benefits - social, environmental and economic - that it brings, but 'the cyclists' have at least become an unignorable pressure group whose voice is being heard even if it can't quite yet drown out the much louder voices of the car and freight lobbies. 

We have come a long way then - but we cannot afford to relax, for it is not all an easy freewheeling downhill from here.

Spending on cycling in Scotland might be at record levels, but so too is road spending - and we know from past experience that the minute the pressure is off, the promises of more investment in active travel will vanish like soap bubbles, or politicians' promises, whichever are the least substantial. 

On Saturday, the Transport Minister will stand up in front of the assembled crowd at Pedal on Parliament. The more of us there are, in Edinburgh and at our satellite event in Aberdeen, the louder our voices will be - and the longer they will echo down Holyrood's corridors of power. 

As we say in POP: together we can make Scotland a cycle friendly country. Please join us.

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