Alastair Dalton: Reclaiming roads for cyclists is a necessity

Some drivers think they own the road and view cyclists as an irritating impediment. Picture: Greg Macvean

Some drivers think they own the road and view cyclists as an irritating impediment. Picture: Greg Macvean

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Roads will be closed across Glasgow city centre on Sunday when they are taken over by thousands of cyclists, many of whom will have never pedalled over such normally busy streets.

A week later, other traffic will be similarly banished from a route between Glasgow and Edinburgh, when more then 10,000 join the annual Pedal for Scotland event.

I’m told that local authorities along the way – just like motorists – vary in their enthusiasm for shutting off streets and the inevitable disruption it causes to those on four wheels.

Both Sunday’s Sky Ride in Glasgow and Pedal for Scotland offer novice and nervous cyclists the opportunity to take to the streets in a safer environment, and perhaps be emboldened to come back when the traffic returns.

They are also important in giving children more experience of cycling, and my daughter is now an avid participant.

The Wee Jaunt, a shorter version of the Pedal for Scotland over the same course, is ideal for families, and I’m told that more mums than dads take part, which could ultimately help redress the under representation of women cyclists on the roads.

Such events further encourage cycling through participants getting in training by pedalling more to work and on other trips.

But road restrictions upset many drivers, some of whom may think they “own the road” and view cyclists as an irritating impediment.

A few motorists also remain under the illusion they pay for the roads and cyclists don’t, when in fact both do – as taxpayers.

Road tax was abolished in 1937 and replaced with vehicle excise duty, which is now effectively a pollution tax, since its rates are linked to vehicle emissions.

Instead, roads are funded by local authorities, with the Scottish Government responsible for motorways and other trunk roads.

Since everyone’s paying for their upkeep, it could be argued that drivers – especially those travelling alone – take up a disproportionate amount of increasingly scarce road space.

Those stunts involving four people walking along a street while holding a cardboard cut-out car around them demonstrates that well.

Ministers’ goal is that one in ten journeys is made by bike by 2020, and cycling and walking becomes the norm for the shortest trips by 2030. They realise that traffic levels and perceived dangers put many off cycling on roads, and there is a new focus on segregated routes, which are supposedly to be far better designed than some of the few already built.

In some areas, that is where the crunch has already come between the interests of the motoring majority and the growing but far smaller cycling minority.

It came to a head in Edinburgh this week, when city councillors deferred a decision on what route a new cross-city cycle way between Roseburn and Leith Walk should take.

That followed some residents claiming that the road narrowing and parking reduction involved could increase congestion and threaten local shops.

The capital – along with Glasgow – is in the vanguard of such schemes, and this might be its most ambitious yet. However, the debate over what rights different road users should have over street space is now only likely to intensify across the country as similar projects follow.

Those who feel a sense of entitlement, just because it’s always been that way, may find that change is on its way.

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