We need more people on bikes, agree Scottish MPs in harmonious debate

The Scottish government’s transport minister Humza Yousaf yesterday introduced an active-travel debate at Holyrood. Explaining that the government considers active-travel to be multi-departmental, the debate was wrapped up by Aileen Campbell, the minister for public health and sport.

While walking – and even kayaking – were mentioned in the good-natured, all-in-agreement debate it was cycling that dominated, with MSPs falling over themselves to big-up their bicycling connections. There were favourable mentions in the debate for Spokes (the 40-year-old Lothian cycling campaign), Sustrans, Cycling UK, Pedal for Parliament, Nextbike, and community bike shops.

The Scottish parliamentarians also showed they were conversant with terms such as MAMILs (which doesn’t stand for "middle aged MSPs in Lycra"), but there were also many mentions of transport poverty and how cycling addresses many of the pressing health issues of the nation.

The active-travel motion was introduced by Yousaf – shown above with cycling mates – who mentioned the Scottish government’s "headline commitment to double the active travel budget from £40 million to £80 million."

He said: "Research has shown that those who cycle to work have a 45 per cent lower rate of cancer and a 46 per cent lower rate of cardiovascular issues. One aspect of active travel that is not talked about so much is the benefits for mental health.

"I was delighted to visit the Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop project in Inverness, which helps people who have mental health issues. One lady was afraid to leave the house as a result of her mental health condition; she was very isolated and did not engage with others. She had never ridden a bike before, but she came to the Velocity Cafe and learned how to cycle, which provided her with physical and mental health benefits. She even ended up leading one of the cycle teams. The benefits for mental health are sometimes understated, but they are important."

The SNP minister also stressed that "active travel can play a part in helping us to meet our ambitious climate change targets."

The SNP’s Richard Lochhead suggested that the Scottish government should create a unit within Transport Scotland dedicated to promoting cycling.

Yousaf said that idea was being given "very serious consideration."

He also added that Scotland would be appointing an "active nation commissioner" in early 2018 to "ensure that we deliver world-class infrastructure across Scotland and projects that encourage greater physical activity levels."

Yousaf added that Scotlands wants "to be the United Kingdom leaders on active travel … Our vision is to make our towns and cities friendlier and safer places for pedestrians and cyclists."

To that end he said he was in favour of "high-quality segregated cycle paths" which will "improve the public realm, making it as accessible as possible for everyone. The projects will put people and place first."

He added that "ehavioural change among drivers is also hugely important. Many of us who cycle are also car users and hear too often the unsavoury attitudes of some car users. Behavioural change will be hugely important."

While the debate was largely harmonious the Conservative MSP Jamie Greene warned that "at the current rate the Scottish Government will not meet its 2020 target of ensuring that 10 per cent of all journeys are made by bicycle." Instead, "everyday bike rides have increased by just 0.2 per cent in a decade," he said, and that at that rate would take 300 years to meet the target. 

Green MSP John Finnie pointed out that for all the warm words on active travel by the Scottish government all parties – except the Green Party – were in favour of spending "£6 billion on two roads" which would lead to greater car-dependence.

The minister for public health and sport tail-ended the debate because that "illustrates how getting people active does not fit into just one ministerial portfolio … That is why it is important that, in a country of 5 million people, we collaborate and innovate where we can for the benefit of the whole country."

Aileen Campbell concluded with quotes from a noted Canadian transport planner.

"Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting the internationally renowned planning expert Brent Toderian," said Campbell. "His ethos is to create multimodal cities and multimodal citizens and to ‘make walking, biking and transit delightful.’ He believes that ‘If you design a city for cars, it fails for everyone, including drivers. If you design a multi-modal city … it works for everyone, including drivers.’"

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