Monday, 11 November 2013

Cycling Scotland Conference: Thoughts

It was the Cycling Scotland Conference this week, an event that last year was quite inspirational. There was lots of talk about top quality cycle infrastructure, significant investment in cycling and an astonishing modal share of cycling. Of course this all came from last years visiting Dutch delegation. This year we were on our own. Would we hear evidence of a step toward a safer cycling Scotland?

The day, which was in the impressive surroundings on the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome, started with an introduction by Jon Snow. It's always good when you get interest from a big name to host the event, and especially one that has a big interest in cycling. Jon didn't say anything controversial except for one small thing....he commented that he saw more segregated cycle lanes on his way to the Velodrome from Glasgow Central station. Hmm. This is what he will have passed. Hardly connected or well designed, but credit where it's is a start....

Then came Frank McAveety. Frank is the appointed 'Cycling Czar' for Glasgow, so I was hopeful of a good speech. Actually, his speech was reasonable and he talked about Glasgow needing, a 'New Vision of Cycling'. Lots of good and encouraging words. However, these need to be put into context. Despite the Cycling Scotland national assessment document suggesting that Glasgow was one of the top authorities on 'leadership and commitment towards cycling (that raised more than a few eyebrows, including both of mine), Glasgow last year did not invest one single penny of it's own transport budget in cycling. Not one. Glasgow is in fact very good at spending other peoples money, but not their own. Is that a sign of a council truly committed to cycling as a mode of transport?

One other thing that Frank mentioned really concerned me; ASLs. Frank mentioned as requested by cyclists in Glasgow they are looking to further impliment and improve Glasgow's Advanced Stop Lines. At this point my face and hand met in a slapping action. Considering this was the only actual cycle infrastructure that Frank made any specific commitment to, my heart sunk a little.

Next up was Keith Brown MSP, minister for transport. It was actually a positive step forward for Keith to attend this years event. Last year we only got a video message. In fact, Keith was supposed to cycle part of the way to the conference. However, he explained that this was cancelled last minute as his son had taken the bike out of the garage...apparently.

The speech itself, well, if I'm honest, I can't really remember much of the speech. It was notable for it's total lack of content. It said absolutely nothing new. Yes there were some teeny, weeny wee signs of progress.

He did use the word investment and cycling in the same line.
He did agree that the government had a leadership role in investment.
He was completely unapologetic about the Nice Way Code.
Not progress, but probably best to move on...
He agreed that cycling could improve local trade and businesses.
He suggested that large road infrastructure projects were vital, though there were to be no new major projects in the near future. He also suggested that yes investment in cycling was vital, but that significant cycling investment would need to wait until after the big road investments which were already in the pipeline had been completed.
Oh bu&&er.

Yup, cycling is worthwhile but you will need to wait until the new Forth Road Bridge is completed and the A9 has been upgraded before you get it. In the meantime it's bits and pieces.

Unexpectedly there was a chance for a few questions and very unexpectedly I had a chance to ask one. I must admit this for me was the most bizarre moment of the conference.

Question (Me): Do you think that we have a chance of reaching the target/vision/ambition (at the conference he used ambition) of reaching 10% BY 2020?

Answer (KB):   ...and as for the question from David who has a habit of sending me abusive tweets....(Jon Snow: Perhaps you two should meet for a chat)....KB with a grimace...oh....we've met alright.....

He then went on to talk around the answer...point out that councils have a responsibility.....point out that the focus needs to be commuting journeys....and finally.....

KB: .....yes, I think we can reach the target by 2020.

It was later at coffee break, after a few people commenting to me that Keith really reacted in a very 'strange way' to my question, almost as if he was annoyed.....I headed off to the loo. It was on this journey that someone patted me on the back smiling...

Did you hear what he said there?

I hadn't. I hadn't noticed that he had accidental mentioned the word target, instead of vision or ambition. It seems that even Keith is getting confused....

Ian Aitken (Cycling Scotland) got up and talked. Again, nothing too controversial, except for his comments on the Nice Way Code (I hate mentioning it, but I never brought it up!). He had some results back from the surveys and apparently they suggested that cyclists felt that they were being treated better as a result of the NWC. Ummm. They never talked to me then! I await the publication of the results with interest.

Andrew Gilligan gave an excellent talk, but as he pointed out, it was very easy for him to do that, considering he had a budget of nearly £1bn to spend on cycling in London! (That would keep us going for 10 years!) Most importantly though he mentioned people. He mentioned that cycle infrastructure was not for cyclists, it was for everyone.


London has got it and I can see a bright future for cycling in London. Yes, Andrew did mention that it wouldn't be perfect and that some expectations wouldn't be wouldn't be Amsterdam.... However, they are a million miles and nearly a billion pounds away from the situation in Scotland. I did love this comment he made:

Doing something badly is not an option.

Alison Johnstone then gave a speech which Jon Snow described as 'the most inspiring speech he had heard from a politician....EVER!' It was an excellent speech. There can be no doubt, Alison gets it. Yes, Alison is a green MSP, she is bound to be pro-active travel. However, it goes beyond that. Alison really does gets it. She gets that cycling isn't just an environmental issue, she knows that it answers big issues in health and wealth as well. We need more politicians like Alison in all of the political parties.

Following Alison was the Panel. A number of questions were asked, but the one that interested me the most was the question of safety. By focusing on safety are we putting people off cycling? Susan Swarbrick from the Herald was asked this question first. She felt that the paper had a responsibility to report the news and that was what they do (to be fair the Herald's coverage is generally very positive!). Andrew Gilligan was a bit torn on this issue. He was a bit concerned. Personally I think we have to be honest whilst not sensational. I think POP has the balance right. What do you think?

It was now lunch and the networking started in earnest. To be honest, whilst I did chat with quite a few folk, the problem was that there were too many people to chat too! There is never enough time at these events. Mind you, having lunch in the middle of the velodrome with cyclists using it, is quite unusual!

The afternoon session started with a talk about the Commonwealth Games which is all good, though I do certainly have some issues with the cycle infrastructure being built in it's name.....another post another day....

The bikeability awards, and then Craig Burn the head of Scottish Cycling took the stage. I've had the pleasure of chatting to Craig a few times before and I like what he has to say. Yes he is focused on the sport side of cycling, but he can see the connection with utility and leisure cycling and certainly has an interest in making cycling safe for all. After all his future stars are our kids, and we need safe facilities for our kids, including the roads....

Then it was off to the workshops. I chose one on 'Cycle Campaigning in Glasgow/Strathclyde' first. It was a small group and there was some chat about approaches to campaigning. There was agreement that there are different approaches needed for different areas (i.e. rural councils are different from city councils), but there was some agreement that we need 'good cops and bad cops'. We do need people who work with the councils but we also need pressure.

My second workshop was very interesting. It was on the A81 corridor (East Dunbartonshire), and the potential for new cycle infrastructure on it. I'll save the details of this one for a follow up blog pos, but I am quite excited by this, considering it is part of my commute. There is a possibility of 2.3km of segregated infrastructure being built. Anyway, as I've said, more on this soon....

Following a break George Vincent, Project Manager and Design Manager, Land and Environmental Services, Glasgow City Council spoke about cycling in Glasgow before and after the Commonwealth Games. I must admit my heart sank when George said.....and I quote:

Cycle infrastructure in Glasgow is already very strong....

This summed up the rest of the talk. We were told about how great cycling was in Glasgow and that there would be a significant legacy from the games. If I am honest, completely honest, I've seen and discussed some of the legacy infrastructure before, and if I am's crap. Really, really really bad. With the the Games coming to Glasgow, we had a great opportunity to do something big and bold, but this speech only served to demonstrate that Glasgow still doesn't get it. Remember, Glasgow didn't spend a penny of it's own transport budget last year on cycling. Not a penny. Nothing, in the lead up to the Games.

Jon Snow then summarised, and I think was entirely correct in once again saying the best thing to come out of today was Alison Johnstone speech. It certainly was the highlight. Unfortunately, Alison already gets it and I didn't feel any major changes coming from anyone else. Little steps maybe, but certainly no step change, and we are desperately in need of major step change!

Overall, I left the day feeling, not dejected, the fact that so many were there was good in itself, but I certainly didn't feel inspired.

The mountain that we have to climb is still there. Someone has built a base camp, which is nice, but otherwise the peak looks as far as always. Rest assure though, this certainly doesn't mean we should pack up and go home. Far from it. In fact we have to shout louder and and we need more people shouting.

Perhaps, I need to annoy Keith Brown just a little bit more....


  1. Really dissappointed but unsurprised at George Vincent's assertion about Glasgow's "great" infrastructure. It's really, truly rather awful. Look at this junction; tell me it isn't a left hook waiting to happen:,-4.222873&spn=0.001163,0.001607&ui=maps&t=h&z=19

    1. Yep, left hooks will happen there. Is there a good database of dangerous locations that GCC actually look at? I have loads of examples.

  2. You know that statement (can't remember who said it now) : If you only meet angry cyclists, then maybe you are a bad driver.

    If you only get abusive[1] tweets from cycling campaigners then maybe you are are bad transport minister.

    If only the SNP didn't quite have a majority and had to accept some green party budget lines in the active travel section ....

    [1] seriously?

  3. Thanks (I think) for the conference review. Given the reportedly excellent speech from Alison Johnstone, perhaps it's time to not only campaign for cycling, but campaign for Green party candidates?