February 2022

Achieving Traffic Reduction: #SpokesMtg report

It’s extremely tough; much tighter timelines are needed, especially on demand management; and the public must be part of decision-making on implementation – but, nonetheless, the Scottish Government 20% and Edinburgh Council 30% ambitions for car-km reduction by 2030 can and must be achieved.

This perhaps summarises the outcome of one of our meatiest and best attended public meetings ever, with over 80 attendees, most of whom stayed for the full 2 hours.

The Scottish Government has published a draft Route Map to achieving their 20% car-km reduction 2030 commitment, and our meeting was held in part as a contribution to the current consultation on the Route Map, which closes on 6 April.

Edinburgh Council has not published a route map (yet?) to their 30% commitment but has a range of related policy documents recently completed or in progress, including the City Mobility Plan (CMP), City Plan (not yet final), 2030 Climate Strategy and 20-minute neighbourhood strategy. Progress on the CMP is to be reported every 2 years. A paper on how the 30% car-km reduction target will relate to other transport modes is expected at the March Transport Committee.

At the end of the meeting, after a superb debate chaired by Dr Sam Gardner [Head of Edinburgh Climate Commission], and based on themes from the many questions submitted, the speakers were asked what thoughts and actions they would take away.

Points to emerge in these ‘takeaway’ conclusions included…

  • The traffic reduction aims can and must be met, for climate reasons…
  • … but they must and will also benefit the places where people live, through reduced car dominance, better conditions for getting around on foot and by bike, more local interaction, and improved air quality. These local ‘place’ issues are what interest people more than targets
  • … therefore people must be involved in the delivery of schemes in their local areas. Surveys show that most people understand the need for change, both for health/safety and for wider environmental concerns, and that most people don’t want to go back to car dominance once schemes have bedded in and been refined through local engagement
  • Investment and improvement for active travel is an equalities issue, for example enabling children, women and disabled people to make active travel journeys which were previously impossible or scary. Thinking of urban areas from a child’s perspective would mean moving to healthier, more liveable places
  • Given the climate urgency, rapid transformation is vital – not just in how local places work, but in government procedures which hamper change, in transferring resources away from road building, and many other areas of public life
  • It is important for those who want these changes (you, we hope!) to make their voice known – speaking to friends and relations, responding to negative press articles, countering the loud voices wanting to retain and expand existing car priviliges, and supporting political parties who will implement traffic-reduction policies.

Below we pick out a few highlights from speeches and questions, and give links to slides/notes.

For full coverage, watch our video of the entire meeting – see ‘Resources’ at the end of this article.

Introducing the meeting, Dave du Feu from Spokes… [DdF notes]

  • the traffic reduction commitments will bring many benefits for public health and community, but were introduced specifically as a response to the urgency of the climate crisis, in the Scottish Government’s 2020 Climate Plan
  • many previous ambitions such as the Scottish Government’s 2010 target for 10% of trips to be by bike in 2020, or Edinburgh’s CCWEL flagship cycleroute, had either failed or taken many years – the traffic reduction commitments must be different

Patrick Harvie MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Active Travel, Zero-Carbon Buildings and Tenants’ Rights [PH slides]

  • The world is very late in tackling the climate crisis, thanks in large part to the efforts of fossil fuel companies over many years, hence now is very urgent. The Scottish Government’s legal climate targets cannot be met in time without reduced car use, as car use is a big element of total Scottish emissions
  • The promised increase in active travel cash [10% of the entire transport budget by the end of this Parliament] is massive – a new delivery model is being developed for the short and medium term, to ensure it is used effectively
  • Transport policy is undergoing a major rethink in the Scottish Government. STPR2 (the Strategic Transport Projects Review) marks a huge shift from road building towards active and sustainable transport. Any new road proposals will have to be assessed against climate considerations
  • Disincentivising car use, i.e. demand management, has to be part of the solution, as well as the carrots of improved active and sustainable options. In answer to questions, he said that although the Route Map only promises a demand management framework in 2025, work is already happening with Councils, on what measures they can take much sooner.

Cllr Lesley Macinnes, Edinburgh City Council, Transport Convener [LM slides]

  • The City has a 30% car-km reduction target, compared to the all-Scotland 20% commitment, because action is less difficult in cities than in rural areas – and the 30% is possible
  • Edinburgh’s target will be met through a combination of policies, right across the Council, including the City Mobility Plan [some others listed above] and involving both carrot and stick
  • The City now has a 5-year £118m active-travel investment programme. The programme is fully funded [NB much of this being Scottish Government cash c/o the Sustrans funding schemes]
  • Public engagement is vital but can be difficult. Surveys show that most people want action, but some get very vocal in opposition when existing arrangements change. Example is the hostility from some to Lanark Road cycle lanes (which lead to nurseries, schools, etc as well as into the city) even though the great majority of houses have driveways
  • Many other cities are moving quickly on this agenda, demonstrating the benefits and the public approval. For example, Paris
  • Barriers to rapid progress must be removed, including rethinking antiquated government procedures such as how traffic orders are approved
  • EVs are “a thorny issue.” They have many benefits for fleets, car clubs, taxis, etc. However in a congested city, whilst we need to eliminate fossil vehicles, swapping every personally owned car for an EV (with very cheap running costs) means worsening congestion, road danger; another tranche of roadside infrastructure (for charging); and significant, albeit reduced, pollution. Instead, new patterns of mobility are crucial.

Dr Caroline Brown, Spokes member, Transform Scotland policy adviser, transport academic

  • Caroline gave an excellent critique of the draft Route Map, which we have summarised here. Interesting points from her QA responses include…
  • Once Council policies are set by an elected Council, consultation on individual projects should be about the detail of the scheme and how it will work, not the principle of the scheme. It should be ‘how to’ not ‘whether to.’ As Caroline added after the meeting, throughout history many changes that we now take for granted – women’s votes, smoking bans, compulsory seat belts – were opposed by large groups until their benefits were experienced
  • The new government policy of free bus travel for age under 22 may have a significant impact on car use in cities, particularly one such as Edinburgh with several universities and colleges
  • In discussion of EVs, e-bikes and cargobikes should always be included. They are a huge opportunity for business, e.g. last-mile deliveries; and for personal transport – greatly widening distance restrictions, and opening up cycling to new categories including many older and/or disabled people.

Dr Sam Gardner, Head of Edinburgh Climate Commission chaired the QA

  • Sam introduced the session by reminding us that back in 2002, Sarah Boyack MSP, the then Labour Transport Minister, had introduced a target to stabilise traffic levels – but it was an isolated policy, in a context where everything around it was moving in a different direction, there was minimal climate awareness, and the target was unable to withstand these pressures
  • In 2022 we are in a totally different context: for example with tough legal climate targets and with many examples of other cities around the world taking bold steps to reduce car dominance. The Scottish Government 20% commitment should therefore be achievable
  • Given the scale of the climate crisis, our task is to speed up the action, whilst maintaining public support for what will have to be transformational change
  • Useful points from the QA itself have been included above under speaker headings and in the summary of meeting outcomes near the start of the article.

What you can do


  • Many thanks to Cycling UK for use of and great support with the GoToWebinar software
  • Many thanks to all our speakers (above) and organisers, especially main organiser Martin McDonnell
  • Thanks too to all our attendees – and you the reader!

Meeting resources

It’s not just Edinburgh or Scotland

  • Glasgow also has a 30% 2030 traffic reduction target
  • London has a 27% 2030 traffic reduction target
  • If you know of others, send us a link to the document, thanks

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