How to improve transport cycling in Scotland

All Ability Bikes Networking Event Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Andy Catlin
We're decades behind the Dutch but the UK is finally waking up to transport cycling's potential. In this series looking at cycling across the UK's four nations, cycling journalist Laura Laker asks if a new golden age for cycling is realistic in Scotland

We all know the arguments for active travel, but with the pandemic bike boom and Highway Code changes if feels like there’s a subtle shift in transport cycling’s prospects – that the arguments, at least, have been won. I asked Keith Irving, chief executive of Cycling Scotland whether we can really transform transport cycling’s fortunes, and if so, how do we get to the point where it’s not just for bold, confident cyclists but accessible to everyone?

How much are things like funding, decarbonisation plans and the pandemic bike boom transforming cycling and walking’s prospects?

During the worst of the pandemic, cycling became an obvious choice for many, including people who hadn’t cycled since they were kids. Spaces for People projects, delivered by Sustrans Scotland and local authorities since the pandemic, increased dedicated space for cycling in many locations. Our own cycling friendly projects and innovative projects from many partners are also getting bikes to more people

Our 2021 Attitudes and Behaviours Survey indicated more than a third of people (35%) now cycle for transport or leisure, regularly or occasionally, a 30% increase since 2017. Those citing the environment as a reason for cycling more than doubled since 2017, to 28%. While the health and environmental benefits of cycling remain key drivers of change, money saved will undoubtedly also encourage more people to cycle.

Is a golden age of cycling, or a shift towards active travel, starting to feel like more than just warm words in politics, and if so, how?

Scotland is in the early stages of a cycling revolution with a commitment to spending at least £320 million or 10% of the transport budget on active travel by 2024/25. Long term financial investment, especially in infrastructure, is essential.

How can we transform cycling’s fortunes in Scotland?

Firstly, implement existing Scottish and local government policy commitments and ambitions on cycling. Secondly, keep the successful campaigns going. Thirdly, keep reaching more people. Two-thirds of the population never cycle, but almost everyone can enjoy cycling.

How do we get to the point where transport cycling isn’t just for bold, confident (often male) cyclists, but accessible for everyone?

Serious cycling casualties have increased over the last 15 years, and while the chance of being seriously injured or killed cycling on Scottish roads is low, one serious injury or death is one too many, and fear of traffic stops more people cycling. A network of dedicated separate cycling lanes is the biggest priority. Access to bikes, storage and training is also essential. Cycling Scotland is co-ordinating delivery of Bikeability Scotland cycle training for every child to gain the skills and confidence to cycle on road at any life stage. 

What has been done to boost cycling, and what more needs to be done, in Scotland? Any unique challenges?

Scottish Government investment in active travel is increasing to £150million in 2022/23, including increasing the Cycling Walking and Safer Routes budget for local authorities to £35million. It also includes doubled funding for the National Cycle Network to over £10m. A new Cycling Framework and Delivery Plan should lay out the priorities for action by national and local government to 2030.

We need to reduce vehicle traffic in shopping and residential streets, in line with the Scottish Government commitment to reduce vehicle kilometres by 20% by 2030. We have a clear and urgent mission: we know every journey cycled will make a difference in cutting emissions in a just transition to Net Zero.

What is Cycling UK doing?

We're campaigning

Jim Densham, campaigns and policy manager Scotland for Cycling UK said:

"We continue to push the Scottish Government to keep its commitments on funding and action, and to go even further to ensure we do see a golden age for cycling in Scotland.

"The truth is we need a cycling revolution if Scotland is to decarbonise transport and do its fair share of tackling the climate crisis. To do this action is needed in all corners of Scotland, so following the local elections in May we are calling for renewed commitments from all of Scotland’s councils. Together with our partners and thousands of members in Scotland we can awaken the potential for transport cycling in Scotland."

We're delivering

Suzanne Forup, head of development Scotland at Cycling UK, said:

"Cycling UK, along with Cycling Scotland, is part of Scotland’s Active Travel Delivery Partnership - a group of organisations working with Transport Scotland to deliver the change that we need to transform Scotland into an active nation. Collectively we deliver a wide range of complementary, but different, grant schemes and programmes to support and enable active travel projects across Scotland. There is an online, interactive one-stop-shop which signposts anyone interested in an active travel project to funding, information, advice and support that's right for them.

"We run a number of projects in Scotland which all aim to support more people to cycle regularly for transport, leisure and adventure and focus particularly on empowering people who are less likely to cycle: women, families, minority ethnic communities, people living in otherwise disadvantaged areas, rural communities, disabled people and older people. One of our projects is Play Together on Pedals which supports pre-school children and their families to cycle as a partnership with Cycling Scotland and Play Scotland.

"We have staff based across Scotland, who provide hands-on support and guidance for our projects and our partners. From Shetland to the Scottish Borders, Cycling UK is making a difference in every local authority in Scotland."

What you can do

Transport cycling improvements aren’t solely the preserve of nation-scale departments. You can help bring about changes where you live by becoming part of the Cycle Advocacy Network (CAN).

“The Cycle Advocacy Network is here to support you to speak up for cycling,” explains Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns and advocacy.

“If you’ve ever tried to influence your local council, cycled your child to school, or spoken up for cycling in any way, you’re already a cycling champion, but with support from CAN you could become a local representative for Cycling UK and join our forum for local campaigners.

“We’ve got loads of easy-to-read resources, guides, and a network of people to link up with and receive support from. So, if you want to help get more people cycling where you live, CAN will bring you together with people with a shared interest in creating the conditions that enable more people to cycle, including better infrastructure for cycling and safer roads.

“Come and join us on the journey to get more people cycling.”

Find out more about the Cycle Advocacy Network on our website or get in touch with us online if you have questions to ask.