Leader comment: Two wheels good, four wheels not so good

If the proverbial green man came done from outer space and examined the problems confronting the inhabitants of this planet, and some of the solutions available, then surely our use of the bicycle would be amongst the most puzzling to him.

Minister of Transport Humza Yousaf wants more cyclists on Scotland's roads.
Minister of Transport Humza Yousaf wants more cyclists on Scotland's roads.

We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic and we know that exercise can play an important part in curbing that. It can also play a part in tackling the high incidence of type 2 diabetes and many other diseases including cancers, and we know that exercise can also be a very useful therapy for promoting good mental health.

Now exercise comes in many different forms, and some of them are two-wheeled.

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We also face an energy crisis. More and more we are realising the benefits of sustainable and naturally generated power. Millions have been spent on trying to make cars more fuel efficient and to run on different types of fuel. Yet it is possible right here and now to make journeys where the only fuel being consumed is food.

We are trying to make cars more fuel efficient because fossil fuels are finite and will at some point run out, but also because air pollution is also a major health hazard in 21st century Scotland. Friends of the Earth Scotland say that air pollution causes over 2,500 early deaths every year and that traffic is the main cause of air pollution. The bicycle has zero emissions and can be very sustainably produced. There are some good bamboo frames out there.

With the government’s cycle to work scheme offering savings on machines for commuters and to employers there is even a direct financial incentive. So our little green man will be wondering why we do not use the bicycle more. Unfortunately there are good reasons.

Not everyone likes to exercise. Perhaps the new generation of electric bikes have an important role to play here, in that they can take out some, but crucially not all, of the effort of cycling around town. And they can help with steep hills. Hopeful they can be viewed as a gateway to full cycling.

But there is also the perception that cycling can be dangerous. Sharing roads with vehicles which are much faster, heavier and harder means that when vehicles collide the cyclist will always come off worse.

In 2013 13 cyclists were killed on Scotland’s roads, and that number has remained fairly consistent – in clear contrast to the fall in fatalities for all road users since 2006.

Most fatalities occur on rural roads where car speeds are higher, most injuries to cyclists occur on slower roads in built up areas and at a junction.

So it is clear that improving the cycling environment should play a major part in making it safer and therefore more attractive. Segregated cycle lanes will be a big help here because there is a division of road traffic from cycling traffic. Transport minister Humza Yousaf is absolutely right to regard these lanes as an important factor for would-be cyclists, and lets hope his task force can get many more in to existence.