With the Scottish elections coming up in May, I thought I would revamp my manifesto suggestions for active travel.

Active travel is a great idea as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, it can boost local economic activity, and it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer). In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, and it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health cost alone make worthwhile). So, with a general election looming, I thought I would make a few suggestions, which the political parties might like to adopt for their Manifestos for the coming Holyrood elections with regard to active travel.

First off, what is active travel? Well, at its simplest it is making short journeys by active means, such as walking or cycling. So how do we encourage active travel, here is a proposal from an unexpected source:


  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities
  • Go beyond minimum design standards
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve non-motorized facilities during maintenance projects

Now these might sound like the sort of policies you would get from a liberal neo-socialist European country (or Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá), but just look at the spellings, this was cut and pasted from the official blog of the US Secretary of Transportation. If the Americans can do it, why can’t we?

So here are a few other suggestions:

Strict liability. As I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog, this is an issue which the Scottish Parliament can and should legislate on.

Reduce speed limits in built up areas from 30 mph to 20 mph, throughout all built up areas. People living in built up areas want to feel safe on the streets. One of the major reasons for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling is the speed of traffic in areas with busy roads. The thing with 20 mph zones is that not only do people feel safer, they are safer. There is a wealth of data on the effects of these lower speed limits, studies have shown that introductions of 20 mph zones are associated with a reduction in road casualties of up to 42%.

Enforce the speed limits. Drivers who speed are more likely to be involved in collisions, and they are also more likely to commit other driving violations, such as red-light running and driving too close to the vehicle in front. A DfT 2007 Speed Survey showed that on 30 mph roads, 49% of car drivers exceed 30 mph and 19% exceed 35 mph. Tougher enforcement of the existing traffic laws would also help, currently the police are reluctant to prosecute drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, unless they are travelling in excess of 40 mph. This is a major reason for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling in areas with busy roads. This is creeping on to the political agenda in Scotland, but all too slowly.

Cycle training. There is an excellent training programme available for all school children in Scotland, but less than half of Scotland’s school children get the training. Cycle training to at least National Standard Level 2 (Basic on road skills) and preferably to Level 3 (Advanced roads skills) should be part of the school curriculum, this is an import life skill, not just a leisure activity like golf.

A tax car on parking spaces. Over the last twenty years is there has been significant growth of retail parks and shopping malls, these use large car parks and have greatly increased levels of traffic congestion, while at the same time strangling the life out of small High Street retailers. One way to redress the balance would be to tax car parking spaces. This could also be applied to workplace car parking to discourage commuting by car and again reduce congestion.

Encourage the provision of cycle parking. This could provide real economic benefit, an Australian study has shown each square metre of space allocated to cars contributed A$6 per hour in expenditure, whereas each square metre of space allocated to bicycles brought in five times as much (A$31 per hour). A significant element is that a bicycle take up 12% of the space used by a car, therefore, one car parking space can be used by 8 bikes. So it can be seen that replacing car parking with bicycle parking makes economic sense as part of a parking management plan.

Even the Westminster government has recognised that pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users provide as much if not more spending power than car users in town centres. However, there is a consistent misinterpretation by traders that the majority of their customers arrive by car, and this is not just a UK phenomenon. In Graz, Austria, traders reported that 58% of customers arrived by car when objective data showed that this was 32%, while 68% arrived by sustainable travel modes and yet traders believed just 42% did so. Surveys in Edinburgh, Bristol, and Leicester have shown similar results.

To encourage the provision of cycle parking, rebates and grants could be given for providing secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the front entrance to buildings. Also, to introduce a planning requirement that all new developments should have to provide secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the main entrance to the building, at a minimum rate of one bicycle space per 500 m2 of floor area for commercial offices, and one bicycle space per 900 m2 of floor area for retail and most other commercial uses. Of course people also need secure bicycle storage at home, and this should be encouraged.

Require planners to count pedestrians and cyclists when they carry out traffic surveys, by law. Every traffic planner in the country can tell you how many motor vehicles there are on the roads in their area, but few (if any) can tell you how many cyclists and pedestrians use the same routes. How can you plan for non-motorised traffic if you don’t know how many people are travelling by these means?

Commit a minimum of 5% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel. Let’s face it, 5% isn’t a big ask, the return on investment from active travel infrastructure is far higher than for other forms of transport, by as much as 20:1! This is far greater than the return on investment from providing infrastructure for electric cars. However, currently less than 2% of the total transport budget is spent on active travel, and yet we are all pedestrians at some time in the day. No one can drive absolutely everywhere, no matter how much some people might want to…!

Introduce a lifetime driving ban for drivers who kill, without exception. Currently drivers who cause death by dangerous driving are given a five year ban, starting from the date of sentence (this runs concurrently with any prison term). Drivers who kill, but are convicted of lesser offences, often leave court with little more than a fine and six penalty points on their licence. Anyone causing the death of another by means other than driving can normally expect a substantial prison term, so why are we so lenient with drivers?

Give people back their travel choices, help them to choose active travel, for a longer, healthier, and happier life!