Cycling in Europe: Lessons for Scotland

International Comparator Study cover
Cycling Scotland’s International Comparator Study

In case you missed it – one of our supporting organisations, Cycling Scotland, brought out a report just after Christmas, based on lessons from five European countries, including the two with the highest rates of cycling in the developed world, the Netherlands and Denmark, along with Austria, Germany and Spain – countries with often a far more challenging climate (and hills!) than Scotland.

It’s a long report – with plenty of evidence about what other countries have done to increase cycling levels (or not!). We suggest you read it and make up your mind for yourself. As the report itself says, it’s hard to prove cause and effect over complex things like travel choices but the report’s authors have drawn some interesting conclusions:

“The evidence indicates that pro-cycling policy is an essential pre-condition to seeing change on the ground. However well-worded policy alone does not deliver the change; it needs to be backed by significant funding, principally in physical measures”

And also:

“Although it is not always easy to determine the quality of the measures installed, it is, nevertheless, possible to trace a positive general relationship between the length of cycle lanes/tracks and the amount of cycling.”

It would have been nice to see Scotland ranked alongside the other countries to get an impression of where we stand – but the report does draw some lessons for Scotland at the end. Two key points stand out for us (to quote from the report):


* Provision of better physical conditions for cycling is key to growing levels of cycling substantially

“the primary investment focus should be on enabling cycling through changing the physical environment (e.g. providing protected cycle tracks and/or managing motor traffic)”

This supports one of our three key asks: for conditions that enable everyone to cycle.


* The key measure of practical commitment to a pro-cycling policy is found in the funding support for cycling

“As a guide, the ECF has calculated that each 1% increase in cycling mode share requires an average of €0.8 per person per year. The 2010 figure for the Netherlands was around €25/head, for a 27% mode share”

This makes sense, as obviously you can’t significantly change the roads without substantial investment, esepcially when you consider what a long way behind we are from other countries in Northern Europe. So where does Scotland sit in all this? According to Spokes, the government is spending only £8.15 per head (£43.2m in total) on all active travel this year, and the figure is set to fall to £7.74 per head next year (an estimated £41m in total). Although a few local authorities commit some of their own cash to cycling and active travel, most of them do not, so the total figure is unlikely to be significantly higher.

We’re asking candidates at the coming election to commit 10% of the transport budget to active travel. Given that the total transport budget for the current year is £2,108m, rising to £2,215m for 2016/17, that would mean spending of £39.81 per head, rising to £41.83 next year for all active travel measures, given Scotland’s population of around 5m. If we assume that cycling makes up 50% of that it would come to around £19.91 per head this year and £20.92 next year – not far off the Dutch figure

Given the catching up we’ve got to do, that seems to us to be about right.