Last weekend at our autumn conference our members overwhelmingly backed an updated transport policy which aims to enable higher levels of walking and cycling - otherwise known as active travel - in Scotland. It means we are leading the change towards tackling the rising costs to the NHS of diseases caused by air pollution and inactivity, while also reducing congestion and making our roads safer.
The new policy - developed in consultation with disability groups, traffic engineers and walking and cycling campaigners - seeks to align Scotland with other EU countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands who, thanks to decades of investment in active travel, have some of the fittest and happiest populations in the world. It builds on the proposal by my MSP colleague Mark Ruskell to lower default speed limits in built up areas to 20mph, an idea which has been overwhelmingly welcomed by families, schools and community groups across Scotland. It's clear that people want the streets where they live, work and play to be safe and pleasant places.
For too long, Scottish people have suffered with the blight to our communities of pollution and danger caused by high levels of motor traffic. The measures in our new policy - such as making road crossings more convenient for pedestrians, and creating safe cycling routes to schools - will allow more people to walk or cycle journeys that they previously might have needed to drive.
The policy includes:
- building a strategic network of motor traffic-free cycle routes connecting communities across Scotland;
- reducing waiting times for pedestrians at road crossings;
- recognising adapted cycles as mobility aids when used by disabled people;
- introducing a safety rating system for HGVs similar to that being implemented in London;
- car-free days in towns and cities similar to the successful regular ones in Paris;
- Introducing the Dutch system of Sustainable Safety (https://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/blog/2014/03/26/sustainable-safety-duurzaam-veilig) into Scottish road design to reduce road danger.
While we are glad that the SNP government have taken a step in the right direction with their recent announcement of a doubling of spending on Active Travel and the appointment of an Active Nation Commissioner, Greens know that we must be bolder. We’re calling for a minimum of 10% of transport budgets to be spent on enabling walking and cycling so that every community in Scotland can enjoy the high quality of life that is taken for granted in many European countries. We want people to be able to take their children to school, go to the nearest shop or get to work without feeling that they need to drive.
The evidence for investing in active travel is clear - not only do local economies see at least an 8-fold return on investment in active travel infrastructure, but people are able to lead healthier, more active lives as a result, potentially saving the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds in treating heart disease and cancer, while freeing up much needed space on our roads for those few journeys that can only be done by car.
We know that enabling people to make their everyday trips by walking or cycling has a huge positive effect both on their health and their wallets. The 30% of Scottish households who don’t have access to a car have for decades had their transport choices limited. We want to give people more options to get around conveniently and safely while making our communities more liveable. Creating better conditions for walking and cycling does just that.