What could cycling in Scotland become after lockdown ends?

With many more people in Scotland cycling during the lockdown, Cycling UK's Jim Densham, Campaigns and Policy Manager in Scotland, looks at how the air quality and health benefits can be maintained, and why cycling must be part of a recovery plan for Scotland after coronavirus.

Like many people my day to day work has changed since lockdown began. Government has paused their non-essential activities to focus on the coronavirus response so for me there’s been a shift to keeping abreast of the lockdown advice on exercise and planning how we campaign for cycling after the crisis has abated.

Covid-19 is shocking and truly awful in how it has taken lives and infected so many people, and continues to do so. Staying at home remains essential but can be a strain on mental health. That is why it’s so important to keep active and take the daily exercise recommended by Government. We also need to be positive and look forward to things we will be able to do again when lockdown is over and life gets back to normal.

But, after the pandemic is over what will normal be like? Should we try to create a new normal for the future? We have a huge opportunity to maintain the positive changes that we have all been involved in making to our lives, society and environment during lockdown.

Statistics out last week show that many more people are cycling during lockdown compared to before. Less traffic on the roads has led to reduced air pollution in Scotland‘s cities, and more people enjoying a bike ride because they have time to exercise and feel safer on the roads.

Vital NHS staff and key workers are commuting to their place of work by bike, and people like me and my kids are getting on our bikes for our daily exercise to pootle around the park or the local streets now that they are so quiet.

We want people to be able to continue cycling after the lockdown ends and for the habit they have formed and the benefits they have experienced to remain.

As a society we must not unthinkingly return to the way things were and lose the mental and physical benefits that people have built up through cycling during the lockdown. Government must not let these benefits fizzle away.

Government is working on an economic recovery plan but the nation’s recovery must not be solely focussed on the economy. It must be sustainable, maintain the benefits of lockdown, improve society, enhance the environment, and include a role for cycling.

Actions which promote cycling – such as installing cycle lanes – can stimulate local economies but also help people to cut their carbon footprint and improve their health and wellbeing. Of course, this reduces pressure on the NHS.

Earlier in the year there were a number of important pieces of Scottish Government policy work I was following and working to influence, including the National Transport Strategy and the revised Climate Change Plan. Both are on hold whilst the crisis is dealt with, but afterwards they must be part of a sustainable recovery plan for Scotland and have significant role in boosting cycling. When Government is ready, we want it to commit to a recovery which is sustainable, just and people-centred, which rescues our climate and environment, and where people can be safe, healthy and active.