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"The Work of Cycling Scotland" by Keith Irving, Chief Executive, Cycling Scotland: Glasgow Meeting of 28 February 2017

Keith Irving, Chief Executive, Cycling Scotlandd

Keith Irving, Chief Executive, Cycling Scotland.

© John Yellowlees, 2017

Cycling Scotland is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee that receives funding from Transport Scotland to bring cycling out from the fringes of everyday life and into the mainstream, aiming to establish cycling as an acceptable, attractive and practical lifestyle option.

Cycling Scotland conducts the National Assessment of Local Authority Cycling Policy whose reports result from feedback from local authorities on progress on developing, implementing and monitoring cycling policies. Working with others, Cycling Scotland helps create and deliver opportunities and an environment so that anyone anywhere in Scotland can cycle easily and safely.

Keith Irving came to Cycling Scotland two-and-a-half years ago from Living Streets. Cycling has seen a huge increase in vehicle-km these last ten tears, but Scotland has a long way to go before any of our cities, even Edinburgh can catch up with Cambridge and London.

A partnership with Cycling UK and the Glasgow Bike Station has provided a campaign teaching nursery pupils how to learn to cycle with stabilisers. Then the Bikeability Scotland programme with teachers and local authority cycling officers takes learning about cycling into Primary 1-4 classrooms, with on-road training by Primary 6 and 7. Pupils learn how to risk-assess junctions and that assuming the primary position at least 75 cm away from the gutters is the most important thing in ensuring their visibility and assertiveness against other road-users. Thirty-three thousand pupils received such training in the last academic year.

Training offered by Cycling Scotland is also about getting adults back on their bikes, with practical cycle-awareness offered to PSV and HGV drivers as part of their Continuous Professional Development - 20% of Edinburgh participants applied to join the Cycle to Work scheme offering discounts on purchases of bikes and accessories. HGV collisions with cyclists are low in Scotland compared with London, and increasingly it is the lightweight vehicles such as white vans that are involved in accidents here with cyclists - these doubled to 10% of all cycling accidents in the decade to 2015.

Helmets are a matter for personal choice, and Keith's view is that people should make an informed decision based on the risk applicable to a given journey, e.g. the presence of icy surfaces, but there is no doubt that wearing a correctly-fitted helmet may be advisable for insurance purposes - however making them compulsory would reduce the number of cyclists.

Cycling is the most polarised issue on the Transport Scotland website, and much decision-taking is anecdote-based, so Cycling Scotland strives to come up with the evidence for a more rational approach. Even in the Netherlands where cycling is the predominant mode for distances of one or two miles, numbers decline over greater distances as public transport or the car are preferred.

The "Designing Streets" manual was transformative in its impact, and now 12% of Edinburgh residents cycle to work, with Glasgow reaching half that proportion owing to strong pockets of cycling on the South Side and West End. There is no doubt that confidence grows as cycling becomes more visible, however dedication of roadspace is hugely contested because it takes away space from other road-users, but how else can drivers learn that a cyclist must be given as much space as if s/he was in charge of a car?

Cycling Scotland tries to avoid referring to "cyclists" since every road-user is a person. Operation Close Pass trialled in the West Midlands with plainclothes police wearing cameras has colleagues radioed ahead to pull in drivers who pass cyclists too close, and will be coming to Edinburgh in April. Advanced stop lines can be found in Edinburgh and at new junctions in Glasgow. Cycle Friendly Employer grants assist firms and campuses to create conditions for safe and comfortable cycling, including safe parking, showers and discounts on bikes, helmets and lights, and have seen cycle usage reach 12% at Glasgow Caledonian and double in recent years at the University of Dundee. Cycle-friendly schemes in schools promote cycling as part of the Curriculum for Excellence, teaching pupils cycle-maintenance and helping overcome a view that while cycling at school may be cool, it is not cool to cycle to school.

Cycling can also be promoted as a social enterprise, with the Bike Station making cycling affordable by providing cheap bikes made out of recycled materials. Two new themes are bike-share, helping contribute to London's economic success and got under way before the economic crash in Dublin, and e-bikes for the longer-distance journey or the not so fit, but care must be taken not to crowd out routes like canal towpaths with too many user-types that can result in conflict between the slowest such as walkers and those who want to go fast.

Cycling Scotland's greatest annual event is Pedal for Scotland, begun in 1999 on public highways, which has grown into a major media occasion with a charity partner and last year became traffic-free for the first time, with a contractor paid to close roads to other vehicles. An international comparisons study has shown that no country has made progress without reallocating roadspace - just relegating bikes to a litter-strewn strip "protected" only by a white dotted line simply won't suffice - and a progress report looks to what would be required to achieve 20% modal share by 2020, attracting people out of their cars since it is not about displacing walking.

Links with rail need safer routes to stations. The 1.2% of journeys identified as having cycling as the main mode underplay the experiences of major employers, and in Moray cycling has reached 7% while two Inverness wards have among the country's highest proportion. It was a Cycling Scotland subsidiary that designed the Bear Way segregated cycle-track in East Dunbartonshire, an eye-opener of an experience since design had to compromise with a need to minimise loss of parking spaces: its two-way lanes could not be recommended as ideal, and the present route provides safe cycling over one and a half miles - but with conditions suited only to advanced cyclists at either end. A report due in the next month will identify the value to the Scottish economy of cycle tourism.

Report and photograph of Graham Whiteley by John Yellowlees.

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