Thursday 24 May 2012

Reply to an MSP

Following is a letter I received from Annabel Goldie  MSP (Con) and my response, which will be sent to Annabel.
Dear Dr Brennan,

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding the Pedal on Parliament event on Saturday 28th April.

Scottish Conservatives do want to see a safer environment for walking and cycling and encourage such exercise as carbon free alternatives to short car journeys. 

Given the recent concerns about cyclist safety in Scotland’s cities, I think it is right and proper for resources to be used to make cycling safer in urban areas.  However there are parts of Scotland where this is less of an issue and I do not, therefore, agree that local authorities should be compelled to invest 5% of their transport budgets into cycling.

Cycling could and should be promoted as one way of achieving our basic transport needs, but it is clearly not suitable for all journeys, as there are additional challenges in rural areas.
That said I do believe we should be integrating cycling into local transport strategies, and that some steps could be taken straight away. 
If we hope to encourage cycling we must ensure that the safety of cyclists is improved. One way to do that would be through improved training. We must also look at what our schools are doing to ensure that our children are introduced to the benefits of cycling at a young age, that they are encouraged to cycle to school, and that they are given training to do so safely.
However, cyclists have obligations. Some cyclists ignore red lights, thereby endangering themselves and others; others do not use proper lighting on their bikes either at night or when visibility is poor; and others still neglect to wear helmets. That is not the responsibility of Government or motorists; it is up to the cyclists to behave responsibly and to undertake the appropriate training.
Also, the UK Government is leading discussions at European level on further improving standards for heavy goods vehicles to help reduce accidents caused by poor visibility. 
The implementation of other measures, such as lowering speed limits and making local authorities spend a certain amount of their budget on cycling, will depend on local decisions and need to reflect local priorities. Nevertheless, local authorities do need to do more to improve the safety of cyclists. Some councils have very good cycle-friendly schemes, but others have been found wanting. We must do more to invest in cycling infrastructure, not least to ensure that our roads are up to cycle quality.
Scottish Conservatives will support sustainable travel initiatives and continue to promote cycling and walking and their associated health and environmental benefits.
My colleague, Margaret Mitchell MSP, has tabled a motion which calls on the parliament to welcome ‘Big Bike Day’ which will take place on 3 June in Hamilton to inspire local people to take up cycling.
Action to improve road safety can and should be taken now.
Thank you for taking the time to contact me.
Yours sincerely,
Annabel M Goldie MSP
West of Scotland Region
Here is my response:

Dear Ms Goldie,

Many thanks for replying to my letter where I was asking you to support motion Motion S4M-02764. Whilst I am pleased that you agree that action to improve road safety can and should be taken now I feel there are a number of things that you discuss in your letter that I need to reply to.

I was interested to hear that you do not think that there is no need to make cycling safer in rural areas. I myself am from a village in East Dunbartonshire which I would consider rural (Torrance), and the first 4 miles of my commute to work are on rural roads. One such road that I can take to work, is Balmore Road. If I chose to take this route which is the quickest and flatest, it is often the most unpleasant part of my commute. Whilst large sections of the road have a 30mph speed limit many drivers ignore this and at the same time either pass me too close or endanger other road users with their impatience. For example this type of close pass is not uncommon ( Roads like this would significantly benefit from segregated cycle infrastructure. As it stands there is no way I would take my children on a bike there or on any of the surrounding busy A roads. Whilst there are a couple of alternative cycle routes that I could take my children on such as quieter country roads, or canal paths, to get to them we have to traverse sections of busy road. These back roads and canal paths often do not go where we want to go anyway.

Effectively, to get anywhere with my children the only safe option is to take the car. That is wrong.

Further one of my fellow POP organisers (Sally Hinchcliffe) who comes from Dumfries and Galloway (D&G the second most rural council area in Scotland) points out that:

1. Even somewhere as rural as D&G, most journeys are short, below the classic 5 miles that makes it easy cycling distance.  A lot of the population is concentrated in and around Dumfries itself 
2. In rural areas, investment might look quite different - for instance bike-enabled buses, bike racks at bus stops or better route signage rather than cycle tracks, enabling people to mix and match.
3. Given the problems with rural bus services, if cycling isn't encouraged then for many journeys the only option is the car, leading to problems of isolation for teenagers and anyone who can't afford to run a car or drive it as much as they used to.
4. Investment in cycling in rural areas also benefits tourism as you've got a large number of people coming just to cycle. 
5. We're actually not asking for a blanket 5% in local authority areas but something approaching that based on their existing modal share. 

Looking at point 4 in particular, spending money on cycle infrastructure provides vital investment in local economies. Cycle tourism accounts for 3% of the tourism market in Scotland, which to put that in perspective, is a same market share as golf (VisitScotland). The potential for increasing this market is massive. The European Parliament itself concluded that EU cycling tourism has a total economic impact of €54 billion per annum. Therefore, if cycle infrastructure in rural areas was brought up to the standard of the best European countries it would significantly improve local rural economies. It should also be remembered that cycle tourists tend to spend more money in local businesses than car drivers.

Rural areas need cycle infrastructure investment just as much as urban.

I completely agree with your points about increase training and exposure of young children to cycling. I myself have three young children (7, 5 and 2) who are at different stages of learning to cycle. However, despite this exposure and my obvious enthusiasm for cycling, I am still very cautious about my children cycling in my local area. Cycle training will only take them so far. Cycling really should be as easy as riding a bike. We only need to look to continental Europe to see that it is not a focus on training that gets people of all types on bikes, it is a focus on quality infrastructure.

I was surprised by your comments about the obligations of cyclists for their own safety. That goes without saying. Just as it goes without saying that drivers improve their own safety by not using mobile phones or being drunk whilst driving. However, I wouldn't expect that the issues of drink driving or mobile phones would be raised in a campaign to improve driver safety through improved junction design. Likewise I feel that focusing on a minority of irresponsible cyclists, whom I feel, and have no responsibility for, only deflects attention from the main issues that our roads are only designed with cars in mind.

Interestingly, with regards to wearing helmets, the science of their efficacy remains very inconclusive. My line of work requires me to have an understanding of brain trauma, and I have looked at the scientific evidence for and against the use of helmets. Not only is the evidence for their use inconclusive, there are in fact arguments that they may, in certain circumstances, lead to greater mortality and death. For a more detailed discussion on the subject may I refer you to this resource ( Once again we should also look to the continent, where for example in the Netherlands almost no-one wears a helmet and cyclists suffer lower rates of head injury per mile travelled than in the UK.

Whilst I understand that some policy needs to come from local authorities, and that local decisions must be made about implementation, with government setting the targets for 10% of journeys to be taken by bike by 2020, a target I am sure you support, this will only happen if policy is led by central government and funding is made available to local authorities.

We are a point in time where Scotland must decided if it wants to continue down the path of increased car use, increased obesity, more heart disease, and a worsening environment. There is an alternative, and that is to change government policy to not only encourage more active travel, but to build a society that makes it the obvious choice. I hope you and the Conservative party can help us to make this happen.

Together, we can make Scotland a cycle friendly nation.

Your sincerely

Dr David Brennan (Joint organiser of Pedal on Parliament)


  1. Fantastic reply. Very nicely done.

  2. "Some cyclists ignore red lights, thereby endangering themselves and others; others do not use proper lighting on their bikes either at night or when visibility is poor; and others still neglect to wear helmets. "

    Where have I read this before... If this isn't astroturfing I don't know what is.

  3. It's refreshing to hear your views on bicycle helmets, people are all too quick to jump to conclusions about them without good scientific evidence.

  4. In Vancouver, Canada I'm currently part of a campaign trying to finally rid of the helmet law. It's not a question of whether you chose to wear one or not here, they force you to! There's actually spots I know of now on my daily commute where police sit and wait for cyclists not wearing one so they can give them a $100 fine! It's ridiculous! And now it's destroying all hope for a bike share program here in Vancouver that would increase cyclists, which is only beneficial to cyclist safety as well as all the health benefits it would bring with it. BC needs a kick up the arse! Their number one reason for enforcing it is to save health care costs on head injuries! So ignore all the benefits of cycling, all that exercise, fitness, less likelihood of smoking (I know many who quit smoking because they took up cycling), saving health costs related to potential cyclist head injuries that absolutely wouldn't have occurred if they were wearing a helmet is far more important. My argument to BC is if they're serious about health care costs as a result of head injuries, then their helmet focus would be far better placed on drivers (which will never happen, car companies will fight it tooth and nail as it suggests driving is a dangerous activity), the elderly, and those entering and exiting a bath/shower.

    I'm sick of the helmet debate and I'm sick of the red light argument too. There's bad cyclists and there's bad drivers. Drivers who do stupid things can kill a cyclist. Cyclists who do stupid things are more likely to injure/kill themselves! But I don't assume all drivers are bad because of the idiotic few; most drivers that pass me on a daily basis obey the rules of the road and give me plenty of space when they pass, I've no complaints about them! But why do most non-cyclists consider all of us bad? More cyclists follow road law than don't, yet they latch on to those one or two idiots like they represent the lot of us. It's the same as the argument that we hold them up in traffic. They're in a damn car, wherever they're going, they'll get there a hell of a lot faster than we will, so why the frustration? This person obviously has latched on to the negative stereotype whether they are willing to admit it or not, and needs to start analysing the real main point: cars are potentially deadly weaponsto cyclists on the road. We need protection and we need infrastructure to help protect us. Promoting cycling in school does nothing if parents deem the route to school unsafe, which most of the time is the case!

    And assuming rural areas don't need cycling infrastructure is just naive! I did a lot of cycling between towns along the coast in Fife when I was at my parent's holiday home. I wouldn't dare take my baby brother with me though as, like you noted, people ignore speed limits, or in some cases there was only one road and that was set at national speed limit and that made for some dangerous sections of the route. But there were no other route at all, and absolutely no regard for cyclist safety. This is along the coast, the views were astounding, right by the sea, I'm sure plenty would love to do it, especially all the visiting tourists, but not everyone had the guts to do it, myself included, I'd only ever do it very early in the morning at dawn and then hook the bike up to my dad's car rack to go home.

    Idiot cyclists, like you said, have nothing to do with infrastructure and it's a typical cyclist stereotype an obvious non-cyclist has projected into that reply. Very disappointing.

  5. I'm saddened you felt such a negative riding experience for the fife coast road. I've ridden that route countless times over the years, and continue to do so. It really is a stunningly good road ride & no worse than many many roads I can think of, and way better than a lot of them. I feel no more vulnerable riding that route than on any other public highway....the only 'fly in the ointment' nowadays is the(as almost always :( ) useless cycle path which runs from leven to Lundin links & serves only to suggest to the 'less astute' motorist that we cyclists don't belong on the public highway...sigh. there are also more than one or two alternative routes, into quieter countryside, exiting most of the coastal towns, many of which are largely traffic free....