Even a small increase in cycling could help Scotland’s “stumbling approach” to cutting transport emissions, according to an MSP speaking in a debate in the Scottish Parliament last week.
The debate was tabled by MSP Mark Ruskell, who called for the introduction of a 20mph default limit in residential areas and outside schools, saying lower speeds open up the streets to many more people, including children and the elderly. However, the Minister for transport in Scotland said the implementation of 20mph should be left to local authorities’ discretion.
Ruskell praised the efforts of Scottish communities to improve road safety through measures like 20mph schemes and improved cycling and walking infrastructure. He said even a small shift to cycling could have a positive effect far beyond communities.
Ruskell said: “Although data on direct carbon emissions is inconclusive, the impact of even a slight modal shift to walking and cycling for short journeys makes a valuable contribution to our stumbling progress in reducing transport emissions in Scotland”.
In the debate Ruskell praised hard working community councils, parent councils and informal neighbourhood action groups across Scotland, with local authorities helping to design “more liveable neighbourhoods for all”.
He said: “Where councils—such as Fife Council—have made significant progress in building a network of popular 20mph zones, they have seen cycle trips increase by 20 per cent, while Edinburgh has seen both cycle trips increase and permissions for children to play outside double.”
Ruskell, who is Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said safer neighbourhoods benefit the most vulnerable in society, such as children, those with disabilities and dementia.
“By reducing speed we are also reducing social isolation by encouraging people to get out and about, to play, to visit, to meet up and to shop. I hope that members across all parties will now recognise the large body of evidence that links speed with the fatality rate, which at 30mph is 20 per cent while at 20mph it is only 3 per cent,” said Ruskell.
Ruskell called the current system to apply for 20mph streets through a Traffic Regulation Order “complex and burdensome” for local authorities, and described the introduction of 20mph a “postcode lottery” in Scotland, with some councils yet to introduce slower speed limits. He called on the Scottish Government Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousef, to back national default 20mph speed limits in residential areas and outside schools.
Yousaf said there was “a clear commitment” from government “to encourage local authorities to introduce 20mph zones or limits in residential areas”.
However, he said “Should we go for a blanket approach? The Government is not—at the moment—convinced of that, because the consultations that we have had with local authorities show that they prefer to have discretion about where to roll out 20mph zones. The uptake of that has been fairly good, as has been mentioned.”
Yousaf wouldn’t commit to saying all roads outside of schools should be 20mph, and instead said it should be at local authorities’ discretion, too.
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, said the roll-out of 20mph means more children will be allowed to play out without fear of a car “belting around the corner at 30mph”. She said 20mph “is a real opportunity here to ensure that more people in Scotland have more access to streets”.
“We are asking that the Government roll out on-road cycle training for all. That is fine when your child is out with a professional trainer and they are getting the input and the experience that they need, but many parents simply will not allow their children to cycle unattended on the road in current circumstances.”
Ruskell said while Scotland is on target to meet a 40 per cent reduction in road fatalities from 2004 baseline, in the UK pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are 50 per cent of road fatalities, compared to 40 per cent in Sweden.
He pointed out physical inactivity costs £11bn every year, adding “it was a director of public health and not of roads who made the investment in a 20mph roll-out across Manchester”.