On yer bike

Tom Brown refers to the approach taken by Edinburgh on transport as being "draconian" ("Who will part the driver from his car?", 25 October). But are these policies draconian or radical? It all depends where you stand on transport issues. Like so many others, he views the problem almost exclusively from behind the windscreen of a car with no mention of the needs of pedestrians, public transport users or cyclists. The total use of these three sustainable modes of transport in Scotland is greater than car use: surely they are worth a mention.

In the past five years road fatalities have halved, cycling has doubled, air quality has improved at 18 out of the 19 pollution monitoring stations in the city centre, and after 40 years of decline bus patronage has increased as a direct result of "Greenway" bus priority lanes.

Whom have the transport policies in Edinburgh been draconian for? Certainly not for public transport users, who have witnessed considerable improvements to their journey times and the reliability of their service. Not for cyclists, who have witnessed an improvement in safety as a direct result of new cycle lanes. Not for pedestrians, who have been given more space on Princes Street and the Royal Mile and can shop in a better environment. Not for the Chamber of Commerce, which has supported these environmental improvements because it knows that they are good for retail trade. Not for the millions of visitors and residents in the capital who value clean air.

Tom Brown says of Sarah Boyack, the Scottish transport minister, that "her preference for bike over car may explain why she fails to understand the motoring mentality". Yet John Prescott is mocked as "two Jags".

What has become obvious to transport professionals is that the most anti-car strategy of all would be not to introduce the radical policies recommended in the government's white paper on transport. Traffic is forecast to double over the next 20 years with a resulting twofold increase in journey time by car in UK cities.

The new transport policies are difficult to sell to a sceptical electorate, but they are right. The alternative is growing congestion and gridlock, and increased exclusion for those without access to a car.

Professor David Begg
Director, Centre for Transport Policy
The Robert Gordon University

This article first appeared in the 01 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Interview - David Ramsbotham