Sustrans and the Scottish Household Survey

I’m seriously irritated by the boundless, baseless optimism that emanates from the “if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” wing of the cycling world. By that I mean Sustrans, who tweeted this statistic from the 2013 Scottish Household Survey today:

Wow! Cycling is on the up! Yippee!

If you actually read the whole document, as I have done, you find a distinctly less favourable overall picture. While bike mileage is indeed up and car mileage has fallen by 2% in the last 5 years, the distance covered by car is still a hundred times greater than that covered by bike. Since 2012, the overall modal share of the car has increased 3 points to 64% and the modal share of cycling is stagnant at 1%. This is what the full modal split looked like in 2013:


12.9% of journeys to work were walked and 2.5% were cycled, and this was “not a statistically significant increase on 2012”. The headline reasons given for not cycling to work are distance (37.4%) and weather (19.8%). Dig below the headlines, though, and you find that many Scots believe that there are too many cars on the road (14.7%), that traffic travels too fast (11.6%), that dark/lonely roads are scary (9.0%), that there are inconsiderate drivers (8.9%), and that road surfaces are dangerous (5.6%). All of these really come down to the same thing: a low sense of safety, and when you add them all up you find that 49.8% of people are put off by these safety concerns. That safety is the most important thing isn’t exactly a newsflash and it’s a bit odd that this point isn’t made in the summary – but then, it would be embarrassing to admit that half the population are too afraid to cycle, would it not?

52% of journeys to school were walked and 1.2% were cycled. In a civilised country this combined figure would be in the region of 90%, but Scotland is not a civilised country. Here’s one example of why this is: my old school, located in the town centre (not in Glasgow), was demolished and relocated to the middle of nowhere. For my younger sister, the 5-minute walk to school became a half-hour walk to school. She could not even take the most direct route because there was no pedestrian crossing, and there still isn’t. She was driven more often than not. Most people in Scotland are overweight or obese these days, but nobody is interested in joining the dots.

The Scottish Government has publically stated goals to significantly raise the modal share of both walking and cycling at the expense of car use. This is what the modal split would look like if these goals were to be achieved:


The walking goal comes from the National Walking Strategy, in which we learned that Switzerland has a walking modal share of over 30% and that this is what the Scottish Government is aiming for. I’ve never been to Switzerland – it must be a lovely place if there are so many pedestrians. I’ve not been able to find any information about how the Swiss have achieved such a high rate of walking – I guess they don’t get much in the way of rain or snow over there, or perhaps it’s Just Part Of The Culture. Yes, that’ll be it. The cycling target is from the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland. Neither of these goals will be met without a radical change in Government policy and spending, of course, but it will be interesting to see how long they keep up the pretence that they’re going to be in the face of evidence like this.

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  1. All these kind of stats need context. Sustrans have provided none. The CAPS ‘target’ is the context to such figures, and for Scotland to meet it the cycling share must go up 1000% between 2013 and 2020 (1% to 10%)

    A back of the envelope calculation suggests that to go from 1% to 10% at a flat rate over 7 years requires 40% growth per annum, and so a growth of 6% (of miles, not modal share, and based on a small sample size) objectively shows failure when compared to the government’s own target.

    The government, national and local, deserve a lot of criticism, but it’s hard not to agree that Sustrans are hindering the cause of active travel by talking about numbers without context.

      1. Oh yeah, I know how much they love playing semantic games with it. Nicola Sturgeon called it a “target” in Parliament (follow the link ^^^), so I’m going to stick with that 😉

  2. It was particularly depressing to hear the level of debate on a Radio Scotland phone in yesterday – .

    In light of car journeys increasing the best solution apparently is to convince people “to get off their backsides and dont be so lazy”. As encouraging people to walk and cycle through the ‘not far? Leave the car’ bolloks has been a roaring success, so lets do it some more!

    Why is it no one seems to connect the dots? If driving is the most direct, convenient and attractive way to get around, people will drive. Likewise if walking, cycling, public transport (preferably all joined up) was the best way to get from A to B to C, then maybe more people would walk and cycle, perhaps?

    Simply telling folk “walking is good for you fatty, so walk” whilst maintaining a car-centric dominance is simply not good enough.

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