Alastair Dalton: Surprise cycling turnout could herald change

Cyclists converged on four Pedal on Parliaments events across Scotland at the weekend. Picture: Brian Anderson
Cyclists converged on four Pedal on Parliaments events across Scotland at the weekend. Picture: Brian Anderson
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A bit of a surprise was in store for organisers of Pedal on Parliament, the annual lobby to improve cycling in Scotland, when they expanded from Edinburgh to three other Scottish cities at the weekend.

Exceeding expectations, around 1,000 cyclists took part in Glasgow’s inaugural campaigning ride on Sunday.

While the event was in its sixth year in Edinburgh, Glasgow has never had the association with cycling enjoyed by its east coast counterpart.

The response reflects the increasing importance of the bicycle in Scotland’s biggest city, ten years after the mode of transport was viewed as “anathema” to many city councillors, a member of the local authority’s ruling Labour group revealed to the rally.

Glasgow is transforming into a cycling city like many other urban areas of Scotland - albeit at different rates.

In his cycling group CTC president guise, Channel Four News anchor Jon Snow remarked that he’d seen more cycle lanes on his taxi ride from the city centre to the east end of Glasgow than in the whole of central London - and that was four years ago.

Since then, separated bike lanes into the city centre have been added from other directions, and a new “gold standard” route is being developed from the south side that should provide an exemplar of how the future should look.

Humza Yousaf also addressed Sunday’s throng - in shorts, hoodie and trainers - as much to champion grassroots initiatives like an Islamic school teaching nervous Muslim women to cycle, as to preach as transport minister.

However, he also underlined the emphasis he placed on lanes separating cyclists from other traffic so anyone timid on two wheels is not deterred.

“Let me be unequivocal about this,” he said, “segregated cycle paths are hugely important for people to be able to cycle safely.”

Cycling appears to be developing a head of steam politically, the Labour councillor also said at the rally, in perhaps a nod to his party waking up to its importance.

That also comes as Mr Yousaf remains determined to keep striving towards the 10 per cent cycling target by 2020 - five times current levels - however unachievable.

Dave Brennan, one of the Pedal on Parliament organisers, encapsulated the wide-ranging significance of boosting cycling when he rubbished the notion that people wouldn’t decide who to vote for on the basis of a cycle lane.

As he pointed out, it’s far more than that - giving kids an opportunity to be independent, improving the allocation of space, reducing traffic congestion, cutting pollution and reducing inequalities for the many without a car.

Much, much more work needs to be done to get the average driver to even think about getting on a bike in a city.

Edinburgh has a great network of off-road paths, and, to the surprise of even some cyclists, Glasgow does to. It’s just that some are still so hidden you wouldn’t know they were there without a cycle map because they don’t appear in road atlases.

The Scottish Government’s ultimate aim is cycling - along with walking - should be the normal way of getting around over short distances.

In the 205th anniversary year of the birth of Kirkpatrick Macmillan, the Scotsman credited with inventing the bicycle, it’s not a bad goal to be setting ourselves.