How the Scottish Green Party is deliberately failing cycling

The Scottish Green Party was up in arms this week about the Scottish Government’s weak new Cycling Action Plan. Mark Russell MSP:

“Our communities deserve safe streets for walking and cycling. It’s clear from this so-called action plan of tired old reheated ideas that the Scottish Government doesn’t care.”

This is perfectly true. The problem is that the party’s proposed remedy – “20mph default limit in residential areas would encourage everyday journeys by bike” – is no more likely to work. I said as much on Twitter:

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Let’s be clear here: though most people (including me) sometimes use the terms “zone” and “limit” interchangeably, they have distinct meanings in transport patter. A 20mph “zone” is an area where design features like speed bumps are put in place in order to make the speed limit self-enforcing. A 20mph “limit” is an area with a sign on a pole and nothing else – no speed bumps. Some people cling to the delusion that this will “change the culture” among motorists. Research by the City of Edinburgh Council found that, after the latter type of 20mph implementation, average speeds remained above 20mph. This is why it is favoured by car-centric politicians; there is nothing to make drivers slow down, the requirement to obey the limit being purely theoretical. It is therefore politically easy to implement – it gives cyclists and pedestrians the (false) idea that something is being done for them, while leaving the primacy of the car very much intact. Every Scottish Green candidate in the 2016 Holyrood election stood on a manifesto commitment to relax the penalties for speeding and, incredibly, to allow criminal drivers to select their own preferred token punishment.

Of course, I wasn’t trying to debate the merits of zones versus limits. I was querying the party’s lack of focus on segregated cycling infrastructure, which is the most effective way to increase cycling. I believe this because such infrastructure addresses the fundamental barrier to cycling – the stress associated with the presence of motor traffic – and 20mph, though desirable for other reasons (like casualty reduction) does not. It is politically more difficult to build this type of infrastructure because in most cases it inevitably involves a curtailment of the road space allocation, parking spaces, signal time, and other privileges presently accorded to drivers.

Some Scottish Green politicians do not believe in segregated cycling infrastructure. I’m talking about Ross Greer, the newly-elected Green MSP for West Scotland. Before the Holyrood election, I campaigned for the party and sat on the committee of its Dunbartonshire branch. I raised the issue of the Bears Way segregated cycleway in Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire, which at the time was under threat of removal and cancellation due to local controversy. Bearsden town centre has some of the worst air quality in Scotland and is in desperate need of a modal shift away from the car. Politicians who fail to pursue policies that address this are complicit in the deaths of 2500 Scots every year. Not to mention the deaths and injuries caused by physical inactivity, road traffic collisions, climate change… the list goes on.

I attempted to secure the party’s support for the scheme multiple times; on each occasion, I was flatly refused. It was a “wedge issue”, apparently. Of pro-cycling voters, Greer was dismissive: “who else are they gonna vote for?”. When the public asked for the party’s position, they were ignored or met with equivocation; the party member who managed our social media was under orders from Greer to never give a straight answer. A motion in support of segregated cycling infrastructure was brought to the party conference; Ross Greer refused to second it, declaring himself to be sick of the “cycling fraternity”. Now that the scheme is cancelled the party claims to support it – readers will make their own judgement about how convincing that is. For my part, it sickens me that the Scottish Green Party chose to chase the votes of fossil fuel addicts rather than stand up for clean air and safe streets for children, but that is precisely what happened. The party’s purported radicalism and high principle is little more than a brand.

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It doesn’t stop there. I have it from a source at Glasgow City Council that Martha Wardrop, Green councillor for Hillhead, was instrumental behind the scenes in putting a stop to a scheme that would have banned parking on the cycle lanes on Clarence Drive. And Nina Baker, Green councillor for Anderston/City, victim-blames pedestrians and believes that the streets should be lined with pedestrian guardrail. I met Baker around 2 years ago; she insisted that it was “expensive” to move kerbs to widen pavements or build cycle lanes. That is a lie.

I hope these little anecdotes give some indication of the contempt in which we are held and the extent to which our votes are taken for granted by the Greens. I, for one, will not be voting Green in the council elections. There are good individuals in the party, but that is not enough. My most passionate commitments are to climate and transport justice, and it’s plain that the Scottish Green Party is a graveyard for those values.

Follow @carsickglasgow on Twitter

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