Accessibility: Ensure that our streets, paths and footways are accessible to everyone, whether on foot or using any form of mobility aid; by putting accessibility at the heart of our street design, we will create places everyone can use and enjoy.
Although we have made some progress in recent years in retrofitting accessibility into our streets, with the installation of measures such as dropped kerbs and tactile paving, too often these measures are afterthoughts and/or are poorly designed and don’t serve their intended purpose. Turning the question around and designing our streets to meet the needs of disabled people, children, and older adults first creates a shift in perspective that will benefit everyone. Smooth uncluttered pavements, places to rest and linger, and the separation of cyclists from pedestrians, and both from cars, make town centres pleasant for everyone to use.
Infrastructure and street design standards should meet the needs of blind and visually impaired people, and those using wheelchairs, mobility scooters, non-standard cycles and other mobility aids as well as non-disabled pedestrians and cyclists. They also need to be enforced, and audited, with equality impact assessments given real teeth. Communities should also be given a meaningful say in plans that affect them directly with consultations used to co-design solutions that work for everyone, rather than as a box-ticking exercise.
Working in conjunction with local communities, disability groups and local authorities, the Scottish government should make plans to ensure all pavements, paths, cycle lanes, crossings and road junctions are accessible and easy for everyone to use. Improved infrastructure and street design must remove barriers to active lifestyles, enable easy integration with public transport, and allow people to move freely in communities. Existing pavements and other infrastructure should be kept well maintained and wherever necessary upgraded to meet the revised standards. Parking access should be maintained for those who need it
Infrastructure: Create a long-term programme to rebuild our villages, towns and cities around walking, wheeling and cycling, with active travel infrastructure everyone can use, even after dark – as a rule of thumb, the initial goals should be that every child who wants to can walk, wheel or cycle to their school.
Looking through the eyes of a child (disabled or non-disabled) opens our eyes to how Scotland has built car dependency into our streets. In 2019, just under 52% of children walked to school (42% at secondary) and less than 2% cycled, while a quarter were driven – up from 18% in 1999. Perceptions of convenience, speed, and safety lie behind parents’ decisions to increasingly drive their children to school. If we think about what it takes for children to safely and conveniently – and independently, once they are old enough – walk, wheel or cycle (while still maintaining access by car for those who need it) then we will start to understand the extent of the changes needed.
These will include:
- Reclaiming road space in line with the sustainable travel hierarchy to reduce unnecessary traffic – while allowing essential motorised access everywhere and adequate disabled parking spaces .
- Ensuring every crossing point has a dropped kerb or a raised table crossing that allows wheelchairs and buggies to use it safely.
- Ensure footways are flat, wide and uncluttered.
- Pedestrian crossings that minimise wait times for pedestrians.
- Separated cycle tracks in urban areas on busy roads, so that pedestrians, cyclists, and motorise traffic each have their own, clearly delineated space.
- Rolling out footways (shared with cycles where appropriate) alongside busy rural roads, starting with the goal of enabling active travel from villages and settlements within five miles of the nearest town.
- Ensuring residential and shopping areas (where not pedestrianised) have low traffic volumes and low speeds, by cutting through traffic, rolling out 20mph speed limits by default, and redesigning streets to encourage lower speeds for drivers.
- Ensuring proper maintenance (including gritting), and appropriate lighting and surfacing for routes away from traffic, especially those through parks and along waterways, so that they can be safely used year round.
- Ensuring social safety: narrow, unpaved, unlit paths don’t feel safe, particularly to women, so walking and cycling routes should be designed so that they can be used day or night, winter or summer.
- Accessible public transport that complements and integrates with the active travel network, and making ‘last mile’ journeys accessible to everyone, reducing car dependency.
We also need to build on the successes of the Spaces for People schemes while addressing any barriers that they have introduced, locking in the gains that have been made by making the best ones permanent once they have been properly assessed and communities have been fully consulted.
Investment: Provide sustained, long-term investment that will be sufficient to start to transform Scotland into a country that enables active travel everywhere – starting from 10% of the transport budget (capital and revenue), and rising to 20% during the council term.
Scotland’s transport hierarchy places walking and wheeling at the top, cycling second, and the private car at the bottom. However, when it comes to spending, it’s hard even to discover what most councils spend on active travel, compared to other priorities. Some councils do better than others, but in most parts of Scotland it’s clear that current spending levels are only enough to make incremental changes, not achieve the transformation that is needed.
We have a lot of catching up to do with our continental neighbours. Over the past decade, rates of walking have fallen and rates of cycling have barely risen in Scotland [from the Scottish Household Survey]. In view of the climate and health emergencies, Scotland cannot afford to remain as car-dependent as it is. But that means comprehensive changes right across the country to make walking, wheeling and cycling not just possible but attractive.
Calling this ‘investment’ is not just rhetoric. Money spent on active travel infrastructure pays back many times the original investment, particularly in public health. At a time when we are looking to kick-start our economy again, there can be no better way to pump money into it that won’t just provide an economic boost but also start to tackle the other problems of climate change and persistent health inequalities.
This change in funding priority underpins our other two asks. This investment needs to be long term and linked to agreed network plans, to provide certainty for local authorities, delivery partners and communities. An integrated approach to transport spending must also increasingly embed active travel into all other transport investment, including budgets for roads and developing neighbourhoods.