Whisper it, but Spring is here, and it’s time for what has become an annual fixture on the Scottish Parliament’s calendar – Pedal on Parliament.
This year will be the seventh consecutive Pedal, a celebration of walking and cycling which is both a great day out, and a reminder to politicians that our streets are there for all of us – whether travelling on foot, by bike, by wheelchair, or mobility scooter. Thousands of people will be meeting at The Meadows this Saturday at noon to “cycle, scoot and march on closed roads down to the Scottish Parliament”.
Wait a minute I hear you say – isn’t Pedal on Parliament just about cycling? It’s true that most people go on their bikes, but it’s also about making the streets safer and enjoyable for everyone to get around too.
In previous years “Pedal on Parliament-ers” have demanded more investment in so-called “active travel”. As a Green MSP for the Lothian region I’ve been doing exactly the same for many years and the budget we negotiated with the Scottish Government for this year has doubled the money available from the national pot to £80 million. This is available for new paths, safer junctions and off-road infrastructure. The funding is not enough to meet our target of ten per cent of the transport budget being spent on walking and cycling, but it’s a good step along the way, especially when councils, as City of Edinburgh has done, agree to invest too.
Investing in walking and cycling has to be at the core of any preventative health agenda, as we have long known that spending more time being active is key to preventing Type 2 diabetes, for example, while none of us can be in any doubt about the need to tackle toxic air pollution, and address the devastating health impacts of Scotland’s obesity epidemic.
Previous Pedal on Parliaments have gathered to listen to Scottish cycle-racing legend Graeme Obree as well as the full slate of politicians. If you make it along on Saturday you’ll hear from another famous pedaller, Mark Beaumont. The biggest difference this year is that instead of politicians being given a stage there will be stories from people experiencing the good and bad of cycling in Scotland. Politicians will be there, myself included, but listening instead of speaking.
I don’t know what Mark will say (you’ll have to come along for that) but I know he’ll be there with his family to enjoy the day. Travelling down the streets closed-off for the event gives you a chance to imagine what safer streets could feel like to you and your loved ones. And if the sun shines all the better!
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for the Lothian region