Wednesday 12 November 2014

Cycle Friendly Glasgow Petition Response From Glasgow City Council

It's been a while since I started my 'Cycle Friendly Glasgow' petition and since I met with councillors to discuss it. However, I have now received an official response from Glasgow City Council. The response I have received is below.

I won't comment on this response for the time being, I will do that in a couple of days. I do though encourage you to let me know your thoughts, either by leaving a comment below, or contacting me via my contact page if you prefer to send me your comments in private.

Dear Dave

Many thanks for visiting last month in support of your petition and please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you. Please pass on my thanks to Tricia, Michelle, Norman and Calum for contributing to the discussion with Councillor Watson, council officers and myself.

Since the discussion was quite wide ranging, I will focus on the most salient points. Firstly, I recognise that the Council’s Strategic Plan for Cycling 2010 – 2020 has been criticised by some of the local cycle user groups recently. In response, I would point out that during the life of the document, more is being spent on cycling than previously, more council staff are engaged in cycling development projects than before and more people are cycling in Glasgow than before. Whilst not directly attributing all of this to the Strategic Plan, it is clear that Glasgow has been enormously successful in its endeavours regarding cycling. Due recognition was given at the National Transport Awards recently, where Glasgow won The Excellence in Cycling and Walking award.

Nonetheless, thank you for suggesting areas where our Strategic Plan could be improved. I am pleased to confirm that senior councillors, who are already very committed to developing cycling, will ensure that a review of the Strategic Plan is undertaken. The review will address the content of the Strategic Plan and the governance arrangements. As you are aware, the Council works closely with cycle user groups via the GCC Cycling Forum and the Strategic Plan Transport Sub-group, but there is scope to seek more community input, especially regarding projects that are being taken forward. Larger cycling projects such as Connect2 and Smarter Choices have always encompassed community contributions, but it is hoped that similar contributions can be derived for smaller projects, even when timelines are tight.

With regard to infrastructure, your petition highlights three schemes: Cathkin Braes, Fastlink and New Southern General Hospital. I would like to respond by first acknowledging the role that a desirable public transport system plays in restraining car use, something that Glasgow has historically been very good at. A segregated bus rapid transit or tram-like system offers many benefits in this respect. Unfortunately, examples of such systems elsewhere highlight concerns regarding allowing cyclists into this new environment. As the design work and implementation has advanced, the Council has been able to review initial assumptions that were made regarding cyclists and has already indicated that certain parts of Fastlink will be suitable for cycling. The opportunity is also being taken to investigate what improvements may be able to be undertaken on adjacent cycle routes.

In Cathkin Braes Country Park, a brand new mountain biking facility has been built. To ensure that this facility is accessible to local citizens and to reduce the impact of cars travelling through local communities, a cycle route to the Braes was also constructed. Although primarily built as a leisure route, aimed at recreational cyclists and young people in particular, the route passes through many communities and local trip generators. It therefore fulfils an additional role for utility trips and these short journeys can ideally be undertaken by cycling. As you mentioned during your visit to the City Chambers though, it is important that Glasgow’s new cycle routes attract those who are not cycling at present. Since fear of traffic is one of the main deterrents to cycling, the route uses shared use surfaces, quiet streets and remote footpaths. At most locations, widths are almost double those recommended by Cycling by Design.

As you know, a series of consultation events took place with staff at the Southern General Hospital and at other hospitals to enable opinions to be given to Council staff regarding cycling to the new hospital. As could be expected, a wide variety of views were expressed, from people who were cycling novices, through to more experienced cyclists like yourself, confirming how hard it can be to deliver one facility that will meet the needs of so many different types of cyclist. Your preferred layout for Langlands Road, put forward during your presentation, is interesting.  I recall that it involved segregation, but retained the car parking. The desire for segregation along cycle routes is understood and it is an option that is being considered for some of the schemes that are currently being taken forward by the Council.

Edinburgh’s allocation of funding for cycling projects is laudable. It should be noted however, that as shown in the Spokes annual surveys, Glasgow outstripped Edinburgh’s expenditure (pence per head of population) on two out of the last three years. During the last five years, up to March 2014, Glasgow City Council has spent over £10million on cycling related initiatives that have been delivered through Land and Environmental Services. A further £4.1m has currently been secured for spending on cycling projects up until March 2015.  This shows that Glasgow is committed to cycling and often spends more than 5% of our transport budget on cycling schemes. It should be remembered that this has been achieved against a backdrop of severe financial budget cuts.

I concur with your comments on network planning and can advise that LES currently have Sustrans officers embedded within their Service. They are specifically looking at a city wide network plan for future schemes which we will be able to use to cost the network.  The network will comprise segregated, commuter routes, quiet ways, shared use paths and remote footpaths to provide facilities for both leisure and active travel. Details of these proposals will of course be shared when appropriate.

I am sure you would agree that it is great to see so many people cycling in the city. The recent City Centre cordon count showing that cycling has increased by 200% in the last 5 years verifies that Glaswegians are taking up cycling. It is clear that a latent demand exists and that with the correct infrastructure and encouragement, much progress can be made. I can assure you we see cycling as a key component in our active travel strategy but also in the potential it offers to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Glasgow.  I am determined to build on the progress we have made and recognise the many voices keen for the city to do even more in making Glasgow a cycle friendly city.

Once again, I thank you for attending the City Chambers and presenting your petition objectives and look forward to working with you and the cycle user groups in the future.

Councillor Frank McAveety

Monday 10 November 2014

Who I Won't be Voting For

Anyone who reads this blog will already know that I am not the shy, retiring type. I'm a big believer in asking a question if it needs to be asked, or making a statement if I feel it needs to be made. I try to be polite in what I write, but I also try to be honest and firm. If I ever stray from polite, honest but firm, please let me know.

I think the polite/honest/firm approach is particularly relevant when talking to or about politicians, after all politicians are there to represent us in a very public way, and thus should be questioned robustly to ensure that they do indeed represent the views of the people that they....represent. That is why I recently decided to enter dialog with my own local MSP, Fiona McLeod.

Again, anyone who has read this blog before will know that one of my passions is cycling (Really? You'd never know!) and making the roads safer for everyone in Scotland. Whilst I am willing to don Lycra and mix with traffic (though sometimes I don't enjoy it), I know that the majority of people think I, and others like me, are nuts. I've even had police officers tell me, 'you'd never get me cycling on the roads'.

That's wrong. It shouldn't be like that.

Thus, I wrote this letter to my MSP. I think it was a very reasonable letter, asking reasonable questions. In summary I asked if she agreed that politicians needed to look at the issue of road justice, and did she agree that more needed to be spent on cycling infrastructure to make the roads safer. Please take a moment to read the letter in full.

This was the reply I got.

Dear Dr Brennan,
I understand that Police Scotland have recently announced a focus on driver behaviour.
Government funding for cycling continues to increase and I am persuaded by the arguments and evidence for training as a way towards safer cycling. We have a significant example here in my constituency with the work being done by ED's Cycle Coop especially in Bishopbriggs where they have already exceeded the 20% target for cycling to school.
One of the consequences of the NO vote in the referendum is that the Scottish Government will continue to have their budget squeezed.
Yours sincerely
Fiona McLeod MSP
Strathkelvin & Bearsden

I felt that the reply was poor. It didn't address the main questions of my letter, seemed to miss the point, and suggested that spending on cycling was increasing, when it wasn't. Thus, I replied to Fiona. My reply is here, which I again ask that you read. 

Yes, I was firm, but I think I was fair, asking fair questions and backing them up with a number of hard facts. I was hopeful that Fiona would read this and provide me with a more detailed answer.

Was that reasonable expectation for a constituent when writing to his MSP?

I didn't receive a reply so I sent a short but polite chaser e-mail. Shortly after that I received this reply.

Dear Dr Brennan,
I think I covered all your points in my reply.
Yours sincerely

Fiona McLeod MSP
Strathkelvin & Bearsden

That was it. A one line answer. Apparently my questions have been answered.... No they have not. In fact, if I'm honest, you've failed to answer any of all.

So what can I take from this exchange.

Does Fiona actually think that spending on cycling is going up, when it isn't? 
Does Fiona understand what the difference is between the police asking drivers to be nice and the police taking road justice issues seriously?
Does Fiona understand that the police asking drivers to be nice has hee haw to do with road justice issues with regards to the Procurator Fiscal?
Does Fiona really think that because there is a limit to the Scottish budget (there is always a limit, that's why it is called a....budget...) that this provides an excuse to further cut speniding on cycling and active travel, whilst telling us that things are improving?
Does Fiona really expect parents to send their kids to cycle training and then to feel happy sending them off cycling on the roads? Would she?

Or, does Fiona not just give a hoot?

I'll be honest, I don't have any answers for any of the above questions as Fiona has effectively refused to answer. I suspect (though as I have no answers I may be wrong) that there are two reasons for this refusal. Firstly, the questions I have asked are difficult to answer, mainly because of the poor record the government has on cycling. Shockingly poor in fact. Secondly, and perhaps more onerously, she feels that whether she answers me or not, doesn't matter.

The SNP in Scotland are riding on a post independence wave. SNP membership is significantly up and the SNP is doing well in polls. Labour is not the force in Scotland it once was.

Whilst Fiona is likely to be disappointed in the referendum result itself,you can bet that she and her colleagues now feel much, much safer in their respective positions due to the change in public opinion in Scotland. It would take some major upheaval within the Labour movement for politicians like Fiona to be ousted at the next Scottish elections. She feels safe and secure, at least, as safe and secure as any politician can feel.

So along comes a wee mouthy cyclist, asking awkward questions.

Hmm, what's my best option here.....try and answer the questions? Face up to the fact that the SNP is dead set on more road building at the expense of everything else and that we are sleepwalking the country towards further car dependence? Or......I could just ignore the annoying wee b......yes that's what I'll do.....
And so I've been ignored as a nuisance.

Thing is, I'm a voter. Yes, I'm only one voter, but I am a voter all the same. I will not, under any circumstances whatsoever be voting for Fiona in the next Scottish elections. I will also be sharing this story with others that I know in East Dunbartonshire and perhaps they will also consider their future voting on what they have heard.

Let me make it clear, this is in no way personal. I'm sure Fiona is a lovely lady, but I for one see the future of transport in this country as a serious issue. Funding, or lack of funding for active travel has effects not only on transport policy, but also on health policy, and environmental policy and I now understand that Fiona just doesn't get this, even when faced with irrefutable facts.

Who will I vote for though? Well, I'll certainly be asking all prospective MSPs in the area on the run up to the Scottish elections where they stand on active travel. I'll also hope, that our area will see fit to put up a green candidate at the next election. Whilst I'm not saying I'd definitely vote for them, they'd certainly be in with a significantly better chance than Fiona.