Why Scotland may be on cusp of cycling revolution – leader comment

Lockdown surge in bike use is likely to continue as travel restrictions are eased and traffic increases.

Riders are taking to the streets of Edinburgh on Just Eat Cycles in record numbers (Picture: Greg Macvean)

There has been considerable talk about ‘pent-up demand’ during the lockdown. The idea is that, frustrated by long weeks of relative inactivity, people will jump at the chance to spend some money on a day trip, playing a sport or in a shop as the restrictions are relaxed.

But our current, rather odd way of living appears to have released pent-up demand for something that was perhaps being suppressed in the pre-Covid era – cycling.

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Hire scheme Just Eat Cycles in Edinburgh, which has about 550 purely pedal-power bikes plus more than 70 electric ones, has set a new record for the number of trips in a single day, with Wednesday seeing a total of 1,589 taken by more than 1,100 riders. May has also been its busiest month to date.

Dramatic increases in bike use have also been witnessed in other parts of the country with Cycling Scotland reporting rises of 130 per cent in Kirkcaldy’s Dunniker Road, 103 per cent through the Clyde Tunnel and 62 per cent in Cargenbridge near Dumfries, comparing last month to April 2019.

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In the post-war period, urban planners began to focus ever more on the car as the main form of transport. However, growing concerns over climate change, air pollution, urban congestion and the adverse health effects of physical inactivity have all increased interest in the bicycle.

The quieter roads of lockdown have clearly made cycling a more attractive proposition for many and this feeling may continue for a very different reason when travel restrictions end. If everyone who used to commute by bus or train, but can no longer get a seat under the new social-distancing requirements, switches to a car, the traffic will be horrendous, with gridlock likely. Sitting in a lengthy queue, watching cyclists pass by will prompt many to make the switch and some may never look back.

The lockdown has, in a number of ways, given us to push towards the future with video conferencing proving an extremely cheap alternative to paying travel costs and hotel bills for business trips and much greater home working saving the time and money spent on the daily commute. Given exercise has been described as a “wonder drug” because of its effects on our health, both physical and mental, it is time to start taking pedal power more seriously – as some local authorities are already doing. We may be on the cusp of a cycling revolution.

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