Pedal on Parliament, 25 April 2015 12:00 Middle Meadow Walk Edinburgh
This Saturday I'll be among the thousands pedalling from The Meadows down Edinburgh's Royal Mile to Holyrood for the fourth year of Pedal on Parliament (POP). The motorised traffic will stop and for once we can enjoy Edinburgh's beautiful centre without the fumes, noise and fear that are the usual experience of cycling among the internally combusting.
This is Pedal on Parliament's fourth year.
Transport is a devolved power in Scotland. According to Sally Hinchcliffe, one of the organisers of POP:-
Since we started in 2012, Pedal on Parliament (PoP) has become a national force for cycling in Scotland. As soon as we saw the first-year turnout – the biggest demonstration ever outside the new Scottish Parliament building, apparently – we realised we were going to have to continue.
At the time, although the SNP government had made bold promises about having 10% of journeys made by bike by 2020, on closer examination its plans proved to be no more than the usual UK-style handwaving: training a few schoolchildren, encouraging people to get on their bikes (ignoring the fact that most of them would love to if it wasn’t for the traffic), and asking everyone to be nice to each other on the road.
Funding for the one measure proven to be effective at getting people cycling – building safe, direct and attractive cycle routes – was being cut. Instead, money was being poured into roads: a new Forth crossing, extending Glasgow’s motorway network, and dual carriageways between every city in Scotland.
Sally though does point out the accessibility of Scottish politicians, some who will be at POP including the Minister for Transport. Some of the MSPs are members of Spokes, Edinburgh's cycling pressure group. The First Minister obviously thinks appearing on a bicycle does her no harm.
If the First Minister likes to be seen riding a bicycle, perhaps we can hold her pedals to the fire to do more for cycling in Scotland than photo opportunities.
Cycling activism moves slowly and incrementally and the news that a kerb will be dropped will cause you a frisson of achievement. However there is the bigger picture, and who better to talk about cycling than a Dutchman Henri de Ruiter:-
As I grew up in the Netherlands, cycling is so entirely normal for me that it still feels strange to advocate for it. As a teenager, I cycled to football training from one end of the city to the other end. It did not matter whether it was dark, light, raining, or sunny; we just cycled. The only thing my mother worried about was how dirty the laundry would be when I returned, not whether I would return at all. We cycled to school, to music lessons, to football training, to friends – just everywhere. No parents or their cars needed. Here in Aberdeen, I would never let my child cycle from one side of the city to the other. One small mistake could kill here.
So cycling is an enabler, especially for children. Though most cycling advocates stress the health and environmental benefits of cycling, for me cycling is about liveable, enabling cities – places where everybody wants to live and where children can play on the streets. Even in the US, arguably the car-loving country in the world, people want to keep cycle lanes once they are put in, because the vast majority agrees that their “neighbourhoods became more desirable to live in”. So why wouldn’t that be the case in Scotland?
70% of our world’s population will live in cities in 2050, and people will be increasingly geographically mobile. As a result, cities compete for talent and businesses in a global marketplace. If Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Scotland wants to thrive, it needs to be able to attract people; hence an attractive cityscape will be vital.
More densely populated cities are needed, because “Generation Y” is different (more singles / fewer kids / more focused on experiences) and has other demands, such as work close to home and smaller apartments. The Atlantic recently reported that car makers are worried about these “Millenials” because they don’t seem to care about owning a car. So why build an infrastructure based on current preferences without talkin’ ‘bout my generation?
Densely populated cities are also needed because suburban sprawl is becoming too expensive for an ageing population (more maintenance of roads/sewers/landlines ). However, in order to function properly, densely populated cities need a different transport hierarchy: pedestrians first, cyclists second, public transport third and the private car last.