April 2013

Cars down, bravery not yet up

The Spokes Spring Public Meeting on 8 April heard a challenging message to politicians from Scottish transport expert Prof Iain Docherty, followed by pleas from Jim Eadie MSP and Cllr Jim Orr for maximum public backing to help achieve greater investment and tougher policies to encourage more people to get about by bike …

Speaking to our great 111-strong audience Iain Docherty, Professor of Public Policy at Glasgow University, highlighted the opportunities presented by ‘peak car’ – opportunities not yet understood, not acted on, and perhaps not even wanted by most politicians, many of whom are still in thrall to huge road projects, “toys for the boys.”

from left: Jim Eadie MSP, chair Paul Tetlaw, Cllr Jim Orr, Prof Iain Docherty

from left: Jim Eadie MSP, chair Paul Tetlaw, Cllr Jim Orr, Prof Iain Docherty
pic: Chris Hill

‘Peak car’ refers to the fact that car use has stopped growing (even before the recession) and is now on a downward curve – a pattern seen not just in Scotland and the UK but also in the US and many industrialised European countries.  [The traffic counts conducted by Spokes in recent years have found exactly this pattern – a gradual decline in numbers of private cars][Also see this European evidence and from the US].

The number of young people driving is falling drastically, with theories that social media technology is in part superseding the former role of the car as a status symbol [for example, see Adrian Davis evidence].

The opportunities resulting from peak car are huge, said Iain Docherty.  Congestion problems should lessen, meaning no need to ‘build our way out.’  It becomes easier to redesign roadspace into people-friendly places, more attractive for walking and cycling.  Out-of-town developments, inaccessible on foot or by bike, have a less certain future, whilst local shopping centres could be revitalised.

Most politicians, however, are stuck in the old mould, and need persuaded to understand and to seize the new opportunities and work with them, rather than continuing to invest heavily in the provision of yet more road capacity.

Cllr Jim Orr, Edinburgh Council’s Transport Vice-Convener, whose responsibilities include cycling policy, pointed out Edinburgh’s successes compared to other councils:  notably, cycle use rising significantly, a substantial dedicated cycling budget and an enhanced cycle project officer team.

The challenges are big too: ensuring the budget keeps rising, getting cycling right in big projects [e.g. Princes Street and Leith Walk], and seeking solutions to the cycle-lane car-parking problem.   [It was great to hear a politician at last promise to grasp the latter nettle (though we await action!)  London’s new cycling guru Andrew Gilligan will only say, “touch parking and you die”].

Jim Orr ended by appealing to the audience to keep up pressure on the council and on their own councillors, but to do so in a positive manner.  Not all councillors are convinced, and if the above challenges are to be met then councillors need to know that there is a welcome for steps to keep improving cycling conditions, and a strong demand for them.

Jim Eadie MSP  is co-convener of the Scottish Parliament’s new Cross-Party Cycling Group, along with Alison Johnstone MSP.

On behalf of the CPCG and his constituents, he has been lobbying his own government hard for increased funding – Scotland needs “a step change in cycling investment.

As an immediate measure, the two MSPs, together with Claudia Beamish MSP, are fighting for a special one-off grant to enable one or more “exemplary” cycling projects in Scotland – large scale schemes with a high degree of segregation, aiming to show what is possible.

Just like Jim Orr, Jim Eadie urged the audience to keep lobbying their local MSPs and councillors, so they understand the demand for improved conditions for getting about by bike, and the benefits this will bring.   We may rely on the politicians – but they rely on us just as much!

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