Saturday it rained hard all day. That wasn't encouraging for those of us who were going to Pedal on Parliament. However Sunday was windless, and only a haar to shut out the son. In this spring of constant freezing winds and even snow, the weather passed as balmy.
Last year's Pedal on Parliament was the first. The organisers expected a few hundreds. 3,000 showed up. This year we were 4,000 strong. It was very satisfying to wait in Middle Meadow Walk and see the snake tail of the procession extend right along the Meadows. All sorts of cyclists waited, from finger thin lycrists to a woman who looked like George Orwell's spinster cycling to morning service, from trick cyclists to wobbling kiddies.
I don't think our actual ride had such a dramatic effect as last year, when a mass of cyclists took over the Royal Mile, essentially owning the streets for once. For reasons of traffic flow we were marshalled in batches. The sense of numbers being united for a cause, which is part of a demonstration, was there when we were waiting for the ride to begin but lost when we cycled in dribs and drabs.
We got more of the mass feeling at the gathering in front of Holyrood Palace.
The rally began with David Brennan, the instigator of the first Pedal on Parliament, laying out the theme of making cycling ordinary:-
We aren’t ‘cyclists’, we’re everyone – from the mum taking her children to nursery to the road cyclist doing 100k at the weekend. But we’re also the kids in the back of the car looking wistfully out of the window because their parents can’t risk them riding to school, the people who drive to the gym to ride on stationary bikes because the roads are too fast and busy. There’s a real hunger out there for conditions where everyone can ride, from 8 to 80 and we’re calling on the Scottish government to make the investment to make that a reality.
Cycling is a single issue campaign, which means that the responses of the crowd are unlike those at a left-wing demo. At the rally the police got a round of applause because they were on bicycles and had stopped the traffic for us. The media got a cheer because they are mostly on our side. The Saturday Glasgow Herald had run this editorial, which could have been a campaigner's press release:-
Cycling should be a simple idea whose time has come. It is a cheap and available activity that has been shown to have positive effects on longevity, health and well-being. It is a convivial activity and a great morale booster. It is easily incorporated into daily life, especially in summer. It can be enjoyed at any level from a toddler on a pink trike to the Lycra-clad fanatic putting 100k under his wheels each weekend. If enough of us swap four wheels for two, cycling could make a significant contribution to tackling climate change as well as relieving congestion and improving air quality. Yet for generations cycling has been in decline. Transport policy has focused on cars and lorries and the way we travel has made us less healthy. Cyclists have become regarded as a rather eccentric minority, often viewed with outright hostility by motorists. Most Scots now consider cycling too risky, with some justification. (Another cyclist died on Thursday after a collision with a pick-up truck south of Inverness.)
To return cycling to levels that can contribute to healthier living and the shift to a low carbon economy, without a rise in road deaths and injuries, major changes in public policy will be required. As transport is devolved, the Scottish Government must take the lead on this issue.
The SNP administration talks about safer cycling and has a target of 10% of all journeys being taken by bike by 2020 but its rhetoric has not been matched by action.
Around £25 per head per year needs to be spent to achieve that goal. The actual spend is less than £3. Only a concerted campaign, supported by opposition parties at Holyrood, prevented cuts to the budget for active travel (cycling and walking) last year.
The Green politician got the warmest reception but a Tory councillor could be applauded when he pointed to Boris Johnson and his London cycling schemes and Andrew Mitchell, who cyclists don't see as a snob supposed calling the police plebs, but as another cyclist being discriminated against.
The Times has been campaigning for safe cycling ever since one of their journalists was killed cycling, and gave us a front page picture on Monday.
Sally Hinchcliffe, one of the organisers of Pedal on Parliament, wrote in The Guardian:-
None of us had ever organised a demonstration of this scale in our lives, half of us had never even met each other until the day before the first demo, and we were astounded when somehow – through a mixture of determination, tweeting, mass flyering, blogging and countless emails – we managed to assemble 3,000 cyclists on the Meadows in Edinburgh to lobby Scotland's politicians for more investment and better conditions for cyclists of all kinds.
We were delighted to be joined not only by the "lycra brigade" but by hundreds of families, with several kids even completing the ride on balance bikes. The day was both moving and joyful, a carnival of cycling and a serious attempt to show the politicians that investing in cycling wasn't just something for existing cyclists, but for everyone.
Fast forward a few months, and essentially nothing had changed – for all the warm words from our politicians about how we were "pushing on an open door". While the walking and cycling budget had at least stopped declining, it was nowhere near the level that was needed to see real growth in cycling across Scotland.
We were invited to meet the minister for transport, Keith Brown, but although he listened, it didn't translate into any real action. He recently told the BBC that modernising Scotland's transport meant building more motorways, and they've managed to find the money for a programme of road building while cycling has to wait to see if it gets a few crumbs out of "Barnett consequentials" (windfall money from the Westminster budget).
While Westminster's all party cycling group's recent Get Britain Cycling report laid out a realistic roadmap of how mass cycling could be achieved, Scotland is stuck with the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, a document that is neither a plan nor provides much in the way of any action. Though Scotland's health, pollution and carbon emission reduction policies rely on achieving a growth in bike use, it doesn't seem to have any real idea of how to achieve it, other than yet another campaign urging road users to be nice to each other. Once again, Scotland was getting left behind.
With no leadership coming from the top, we knew we were going to have to supply the political will ourselves. Following the lead of the Dutch and the Danish who took to the streets repeatedly in the 1970s to get their cycle paths, we started planning the next mass demonstration. This time our message was explicit: "we are everyone".
Outside the Council Buildings on the Royal Mile
The message has got out that cycling is a good thing, not just a pursuit for eccentrics or sports maniacs in lycra. Now we want the money and the transport policies to follow the message.