Monday, 27 October 2014

Continuing to Turn Anger into Action

So I've replied to my MSP's last reply. Below you will find the reply. As I've made some of this public, I should probably keep it that way. It's an interesting journey into the mind of a government MSP.

I have to say I was very surprised by your reply to my initial e-mail. I'll try and explain in this e-mail why.

You didn't address the justice issue I was referring to in my original e-mail, that is the undercharging of drivers in cyclist death and serious injury cases. This is not just a police issue, but is also an issue with the Procurator Fiscal. I know for a fact that the case I sent you information on is not the only case for concern,  I personally know of one family who feel aggrieved by their treatment within the court system. There are many more.

I would be very keen to look at the evidence that you have access to that suggests that training is the 'way towards safer cycling'. All of the evidence that I have come across suggests that infrastructure improvement is the way to make cycling safer, unless you are happy to keep cycling exclusive to those brave enough to cycle in the current climate (which includes me, but not my wife and children). I am more than happy to bring you along on my cycle commute to work one day to explain, as we cycle along, why that is the case.  I'd also be interested to know if you could provide any examples of industrialised countries where modal share of cycling has increased from 1% to10% or beyond  through training. This is particularly relevant considering the 2020  target of 10% of cycling modal share set by your government.

I know some of the members of the ED's cycle co-op team quite well, and I know for a fact that they agree that whilst training can help to a small extent, mass cycling will not occur without significant infrastructure investment. This is needed in East Dunbartonshire just as much as anywhere else in Scotland.

I was though, most surprised by your last paragraph. I fail to see what relevance the governments overall budget has in this discussion. Yes, if the Scottish Government had unlimited funds, I'm sure it would invest in cycling infrastructure. However, budgets will always be limited. What matters are the priorities set within those budgets. As things stand cycling and active travel are very far down the priority list and thus receive a tiny, completely insufficient budget.

The truth is that your government has full control over cycling spend (and most of transport) and you choose how to spend your capital. The lack of spending on active travel is purely a political decision. You and the Scottish Government are spending huge sums on roads. Transform Scotland estimates you have a £9bn programme of major road projects, including £3bn A96 and £3bn A9, in and to your traditional heartlands.

Trunk road spending also rises in this year's draft budget (from £639m to £695m) whilst your cycling investment, though still confused, looks set to fall (a reasonable estimate being from £39m in 14/15 to £36m in 15/16) and the proportion of that going to infrastructure also looks set to fall as Spoke have detailed ( It would seem that despite the consequence of a NO vote, that transport spending can increase, just not for active travel.

If you have any information that refutes these figures and thus backs your assertion that government funding for cycling continues to increase, I would be grateful if you could pass it on to me.

I will leave you with one comment I received in relation to the blog I wrote about our ongoing conversation ( This comment was left for me on Facebook. It was from a mother I know from Bishopbriggs who I know is keen for her children to be as active as possible. Her comment was:

Yes I completely agree that the East Dunbartonshire Cycle Coop is a fabulous project.  My youngest is to do a long distance ride with them this Friday. Does this mean that I'm more likely to allow her to ride the open roads of Bishopbriggs - eh absolutely naw!!!! Karen and her team can teach my child all the skills she can but the roads and car driver behaviour allow me no confidence in the option of this as a means for my child to get to school.

This lady is not part of any minority. She represents the majority view of parents, including myself, who fear sending our children out on the roads with training as their only protection. If you and your government truly wish Scotland to be a healthier, less polluted, less congested, more socially inclusive (less than 50% of households in Glasgow have access to a car) country, then perhaps it is time to look once again at your government's priorities within current budgetary constraints. Training of vulnerable  road users should not be one of your priorities.

Yours sincerely,

David Brennan


  1. Great response, but I fear you'll get a typical politician's answer once again - fobbed off with irrelevant & vague statements whilst she avoids actually answering the questions put to her.

    1. Probably, but I feel it has to be said. At least it will be out there for all to see and then people can make up their own minds when it comes time to vote....

  2. Speaking as one of Cycling Scotland's volunteer trainers (so reasonably close to matters there) I concur with your assessment.

    Your MSP probably doesn't know much about the structure. Most of what's delivered is Level 2, which gets the basics of on-road riding in a benign environment. The idea is that's a stepping stone to L3 which is enough to cope with the sort of thing your commute represents (assuming you're willing to try!), but hardly any L3 is delivered. Why not? Cycling Scotland only released pilot resources this past summer, and while L2 can be delivered in 8:1 pupil/instructor classes by Cycle Training Assistants, L3 needs full Cycle Trainers (who are in relatively short supply) and class ratios of 6:2 pupil/instructors. We don't have the instructors and we don't have the time.

    It turns out that if you want to do training properly (never mind it won't persuade a lot of people they want to mix it with HGVs) the Government would need to spend a whole lot more money. Fancy That!

  3. Completely agree with your arguments, and thanks for lobbying your local politicians. On the matter of training let's look at a different angle: WHO is getting the training? I think the letter implies that CYCLISTS are the ones who should be trained - but non-cyclists often don't appreciate that you often find yourself in dangerous situations that any amount of training couldn't avoid, as your own videos show....

    However, we should promote cycling training for DRIVERS. I don't mean the usual "safe driving awareness" stuff that is often required before you are allowed to use a company car, and not a simple "changing place" (cyclist sits in a HGV for a minute, and driver stands in the blind spot for a minute), no, I mean a serious cycling course for drivers: actually experiencing how it feels when a car whizzes past half a metre away, or is tailgating you while you're struggling up a hill, and what cyclist do to reduce these risks (primary position etc.).

    Also, it might convince some drivers that cycling is actually quite a nice thing to do and much less scary after a few days experience?

    In my (subjective) experience, a difference between UK and the continent is not only infrastructure, but also drivers are more careful and respectful towards cyclists and pedestrians (not necessarily towards other cars though...), many cycle (at least occasionally) themselves or have friends and relatives and know this perspective.

    Infrastructure is still the key, but cycle training for drivers can perhaps help a bit?