This article first appeared in the Inverness Courier and other Scottish Provincial Press Publications.
I was delighted to lay a motion before parliament last week highlighting the fantastic work of Own Your Street Inverness and their midsummer Inverness event.
The grassroots campaign aimed to encourage folk to leave the car at home and use streets, parks, pavements and other outdoors areas on foot, scooter, bike or skateboard for at least twenty minutes last Thursday.
Much like the well-attended annual Pedal on Parliament event it’s great to see that there is huge enthusiasm for better active travel facilities in the Highland capital.
It’s also good news that The Scottish Government has set a target of 10% of everyday journeys taking place on bike by 2020. However, even doubling the budget this year, whilst welcome, can’t make up for years of underinvestment in facilities for walking and cycling.
I recently signed up to Play Scotland’s Play Charter when they visited The Scottish Parliament. It’s vital that we ensure that our streets are suitable for living on, not just for driving through. In Edinburgh, the city council now operate a scheme where communities can apply to close their street to cars for the day, to encourage more kids to get out and play safely. I’d love to see The Highland Council adopt a similar approach here.
My colleague, Mark Ruskell MSP, is proposing legislation to change the default limit on the streets where we live, work and play to 20mph. A proposal that would make our streets much safer and one that has my full support.
I’m fed up with local authorities planning our towns around the motor car at the expense of everyone else. More than 30% of people don’t have a car, while many would prefer to leave it at home if they could. Yet planners, and councillors’ decisions, invariably put drivers ahead of pedestrians, cyclists and kids.
We need more places where people can move at their own pace, where they can cycle safely, where they can play or relax, and encourage people to use public transport by improving bus and rail services.
Investment in cycling infrastructure, as we have seen in Cavell Gardens recently, is welcome but The Highland Council and The Scottish Government have a propensity to splash the cash on road projects at the expense of other investment.
More focus on how to make our towns and cities a better place to be, tackling air pollution, and encouraging Highlanders to live healthier lives should all be at the forefront of transforming our public space. Instead, all too often, we hear about proposals to flood Inverness with cars by reducing parking charges, in the hope that this will somehow magically transform the city. It won’t, it’s time to take a different approach.