Associate Feature: Time to invest in cycling and create positive tipping points for people and the planet
Significant long-term spending on safe cycling infrastructure, quieter streets and pleasant places to live is a good investment even at a time when financial pressures are high.
Redirecting spending on active travel and people rather than cars will create a modern vibrant Scotland where people are enabled to live affordable, healthy, active and climate-friendly lifestyles.
People consistently tell surveys that the biggest barrier to cycling in Scotland is that they don’t feel safe on the roads, and as a consequence only 2% of journeys are cycled.
The experience of cities around Europe, however, shows that this can be turned around by reallocating road space and creating safe cycling infrastructure.
Significant annual investment on active travel enables more and more people to ride a bike for short local journeys instead of using the car, leading to a safety in numbers effect for people cycling which encourages even more to join them.
Reaching this safety in numbers tipping point will only come when the outcomes of consistent small and large investments snowball into a situation where society sees cycling as a normal form of transport.
For Scotland we don’t yet know when the tipping point will be when cycling rates take off, but when it happens society will benefit exponentially.
The Dutch have been creating safe space for cycling for years and it has paid off, with a quarter of all journeys cycled. In fact, it’s the norm to cycle in cities like Utrecht or Copenhagen.
The Scottish Government has promised to spend at least £320m on active travel by 2024/25, amounting to £58 per head and comparable to our European neighbours such as Ireland, which is spending £66 per person annually.
In the current financial climate there is, understandably, huge nervousness about cuts in the Scottish budget and the implications for all sectors of society and the economy.
For Cycling UK, the £320m from 2024 is non-negotiable: not just to create new cycle routes which keep people on bikes safe, but also because every £1 spent on cycling and walking schemes in the UK generates £5.62 worth of benefits on average.
These returns are well documented and arise because when people cycle, walk or wheel for everyday journeys they save themselves money, are more likely to support local businesses, reduce road congestion, improve air quality, help Scotland meet its climate change target, and improve their own health and wellbeing.
We recognise that times are hard financially for councils across Scotland, but they must stay firm and deliver the transformations which are good for local businesses and local people.
Improving town centres and high streets for pedestrians and cyclists can increase retail sales by up to 30%. Shop vacancy rates are five times higher on streets with high levels of traffic but conversely in pedestrianised areas retail turnover generally outperforms non-pedestrianised areas.
An economic downturn is the time to be bold, make the shift in local priorities, and invest in active transport and public spaces for people rather than cars.
Tough financial decisions need to be made in the coming weeks and months, but Scotland’s active travel budget must be protected and boosted.
Now is the time to make investments with a track record of providing value for money and securing multiple benefits for Scotland’s people and the planet. Now is the time to invest in cycling.
More evidence of the benefits of creating cycle infrastructure can be found in Cycling UK’s report ‘Getting there with cycling’.
By Jim Densham is Campaigns and policy manager Scotland for Cycling UK.
This article is sponsored by Cycling UK