'Spaces for People' road changes are just tip of the iceberg and need to be better explained to drivers – Alastair Dalton
Back in the balmy, bright weather of the first Covid lockdown last spring, traffic noise was replaced by birdsong, and children and novice cyclists took to the streets, sensing a rare and unexpected opportunity.
Bike shops sold out and cycling journeys more than doubled on the previous year at some points.
Ministers swiftly decided to capitalise on the boom – and the need for extra space for social distancing when movement restrictions were eased.
By August, nearly £40 million had been allocated to councils for such measures under the “Spaces for People” programme.
They appear to have been largely welcomed, and I’ve noticed long-awaited improvements to cycle lanes near me in Glasgow have finally been implemented.
However, in some areas there has been an inevitable backlash.
After all, the scheme is seen as having taken away road space from drivers.
Some have reacted to the threat to their perceived entitlement as if they were being robbed of the motoring equivalent of the US Constitution’s second amendment, enshrining the right to bear arms.
Without accusing anyone of murderous intent, the potential lethal threat of vehicles to cyclists and pedestrians means the analogy is perhaps not as far fetched as it might seem.
Glasgow City Council tells me it has received 24 formal complaints, including about potential traffic congestion and delivery and loading access.
But Edinburgh has seen opposition on an altogether different scale, with protest groups being formed and even threatened legal action to restrictions in East Craigs, in the west of the city.
It’s unsurprising motorists might take umbrage at restrictions on their driving, which can be an inherent part of their lifestyle.
They pay their vehicle tax – a whopping £2,175 a year for the most polluting cars – while they’ll complain the potholes are already bad enough, and they’ve been told to avoid public transport to protect themselves from coronavirus.
But they don’t get the big picture. Change is coming, and Spaces for People is just the tiniest tip of a giant iceberg heading their way.
There’s a climate emergency – and Scotland will be the focus of it in ten months’ time when world leaders are due to descend on Glasgow for the United Nations’ Cop26 conference.
As I have already highlighted, transport is Scotland’s largest source of greenhouse gases, and cars account for 39 per cent of transport’s share.
However, there’s far more to it than emissions. Over-reliance on cars threatens to congest our cities, imperil road safety and endanger our health, if we are not also walking, cycling or wheeling.
It’s such an important change, but one Scotland has failed to achieve for decades.
So it’s unsurprising Spaces for People hasn’t convinced everyone.
Experts have told me there’s acceptance that some of the measures were rushed out during a pandemic that hindered proper explanation and prevented full public debate.
That’s a lesson to be learned as councils seek to persuade communities of the merits of making the changes permanent.
Because, for drivers, there will be a lot more to come.