Scotland

Can Scotland copy the Netherlands on cycling?

  • 7 February 2013
  • From the section Scotland
Bicycles in Amsterdam
Image caption Amsterdam has a cycling rate of 60%, which Scotland hopes to emulate

Cycle campaigners say the Scottish government must increase investment in new bike routes if it is to meet the goal of ensuring that 10% of journeys are made by bicycle by 2020.

In recent years, that figure has been around the 1% or 2% mark. Transport Minister Keith Brown is planning to visit the Netherlands to see how the authorities in Amsterdam have achieved cycling rates of 60%.

So what lessons can Scotland learn from our Dutch neighbours?

That is a question we put to Dr Dave Brennan, one of the organisers of the Pedal on Parliament campaign. Dave is a regular bike commuter in Glasgow.

He wants the Scottish government to commit to spending 5% of its transport budget on measures to encourage more of us to travel by bike.

Dave believes Scotland must invest far more in cycling infrastructure. The Netherlands may be flat, but the country's huge cycling rates are largely attributed to the way in which its towns and cities have been designed to keep cyclists safe.

We followed Dave on a trip to Amsterdam and our first stop was at the offices of Fietsersbond, the Dutch Cyclists' Union.

There we met Gerrit Faber, who described the construction of Amsterdam's Nesciobrug, a large modern bridge crossing a busy waterway which was built to allow cyclists and pedestrians to reach a new district on the city's outskirts.

The bridge cost £6.5m. But Gerrit believes investing in cycling infrastructure is just that - an investment.

He told us: "It saves a lot of money on public transport, which is much more expensive for the city than cycling.

"It saves a lot of money on measures against air pollution, and it saves a lot of money on health care because in the Netherlands and Denmark there is less obesity than in all the surrounding countries."

The bridge is certainly impressive, as we discovered after cycling through driving rain to reach the edge of the city.

But is it realistic to expect hard-pressed Scottish councils, or even the Scottish government, to invest similar sums?

Image caption Campaigners want 5% of the transport budget to be spent on cycling

Scotland's transport minister says he is determined to improve life for cyclists and encourage more Scots to choose two wheels, rather than four.

But in a BBC Scotland interview, Keith Brown made it clear that cycling infrastructure was just one area competing for investment.

He said: "What we're actually involved in is modernising Scotland's transport infrastructure. It's my view that for decades it's been under-invested in.

"For example, we don't have motorways between our cities, which we should have in a modern, developed country.

"I know the road projects are contentious for cyclists, but we had to improve the roads around Aberdeen, we had to complete the M74, and we must have resilience when crossing the Forth. These things can't wait."

The Scottish government has no plans to ring-fence 5% of its transport budget for cycling projects. And it says the goal of having 10% of journeys made by bike is a "shared vision", rather than an official target.

That has angered cycle campaigners.

But at the end of his day riding along Amsterdam's segregated bike paths and dedicated cycle ways, Dave Brennan was in a positive mood.

He said: "I'm not depressed, I'm inspired.

"I know we're going to have cycling facilities like these at home. It's just a matter of when."

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