Dave du Feu: Peddling a change in Capital’s culture

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Already Scotland’s most cycle-friendly city, now is the time to make Edinburgh even better for bikes, says Dave du Feu of Spokes

MORE people are getting about by bike in Edinburgh. You see it on the streets every day. A recent Spokes rush hour traffic count found more bikes and fewer cars than before. In Forrest Road, bikes were one in four of all city-bound vehicles, and even on bike-unfriendly Lothian Road, 17 per cent of city-bound traffic was bikes.

Despite the huge road space which they occupy, 75 per cent of cars had only one occupant, and their decline helps free up congested streets for the more space-efficient buses, walkers and cyclists.

So why is bike use mushrooming? And will the council elections on May 3 change anything?

Firstly, the public wants it. They know it’s healthy and it doesn’t cost the earth. The council’s recent consultation on a “quality bike corridor” from Mayfield to The Mound found 75 per cent for and only 15 per cent against.

When the Scottish Government last year proposed to slash walking and cycling funds, South Edinburgh’s MSP Jim Eadie alone received more than 100 letters and emails, and the government had to retreat.

Secondly, Edinburgh city council has consistently improved cycling conditions over the years, through measures such as coloured cycle lanes and advance stop areas at traffic lights.

With the growth in public support for a more bike-friendly city, the council, thanks to a Lib Dem initiative, recently allocated five per cent of its transport budget to cycling projects, with more in future years.

Such a decision might seem a tad niggardly in Denmark – but is revolutionary in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Thirdly, Edinburgh has seen huge growth in commercial and voluntary activity encouraging cycling. The Edinburgh Bike Coop, founded in 1977 in a back street, now operates UK-wide and has just announced a five-year expansion plan bringing 100 new jobs.

A rash of new independent bike businesses, such as Laidback and Grease Monkey, are opening.

The Bike Station, a social enterprise company which takes unwanted old bikes, has just processed its 30,000th bike, with 13,000 back on the road and the rest stripped for spares and materials recycling.

Spokes helps people get cycling through its bike/walk maps – more than 130,000 of which have been sold – and its free factsheets on topics such as living in a tenement with a bike, or how to keep cycle commuting when you have children.

When Spokes began, fewer than one per cent of trips to work in Edinburgh were by bike – now it is around seven per cent. Yet, despite that growth, cycling casualties have not risen. Sadly, tragic accidents do still happen to all road users, but cycling, like all transport modes, has become significantly safer.

When Spokes began, there were no on-road cycle facilities, and almost none off-road. To get from Marchmont to George IV Bridge, for example, there was no Meadows cycleway – Tollcross junction and the main roads were your only option.

Thanks to the growing public demand for better cycling conditions, Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP all promise to stick to the council’s five per cent of the budget cycling funding vow.

The Greens promise more, increasing cycling investment gradually to £10 per person per year, the sort of level seen in Europe. The Conservatives unfortunately don’t specify any figure but promise “improved cross-city routes”.

But don’t rely only on manifestos – also check out the individuals standing in your area.

Don’t just ask them about the future, but also ask for their track record – have they encouraged bike use at workplaces and schools, for example? What bike routes or bike racks at shops have they lobbied for?

The Spokes website also lists candidates – from Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Conservative parties – who are Spokes members.

www.spokes.org.uk – see the election news item, which includes how to contact your candidates. Also Spokes maps, factsheets and membership.

www.pedalonparliament.org – join the April 28 Pedal on Parliament to ask the Scottish Government to do more, too.

www.thebikestation.org.uk – for low-cost refurbished bikes and training – ideal if you want to start cycling – and to recycle unused old bikes.

So what should candidates standing in next month’s council elections do?

Although cycling conditions are continually improving, many people still do feel scared. Surely everyone should feel happy cycling round their own city for their everyday business! We need . . .

• Princes Street truly welcoming for cyclists and walkers, with one or both sides motor-free

• Trials of a European-style segregated cycle routes – Scotland’s first has just opened, but in Glasgow.

• All residential and shopping streets to be 20mph or less

• All main roads in built-up areas to be 30mph or less

• Cycle facilities on all 30mph roads, and 20mph where necessary

• Connecting up missing links on the off-road ‘family network’

Measures like these will continue Edinburgh’s transition to a more people-friendly city and its glowing reputation as Scotland’s best city for getting about by bike.