blog | 13.10.2021 | David McArthur

Glasgow’s Active Travel Strategy is a step in the right direction

It is an exciting time to be involved in the world of active travel.

In recent years, encouraging walking, wheeling and cycling has been seen as an important way to decarbonise the transport sector at the same time as securing a variety of other benefits. It appears that efforts to increase active travel in Scotland are now being stepped up.

The Draft Shared Policy Programme between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party sets out some ambitious plans. By 2025, at least 10% of Transport Scotland’s budget will be allocated to active travel. By 2030, the total distance travelled by car is to be reduced by 20%. The chart below shows the total number of kilometres travelled by vehicles in Scotland in recent years. This figure has been rising for some time, so a 20% reduction may not be easily achievable. We are also yet to see the impact of the pandemic and the current economic turmoil.

Graph showing the total number of kilometres travelled by vehicles in Scotland each year, from 2006 to 2019

(View image full size)

As Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow has an important part to play in achieving these targets. Recently, Glasgow City Council published its proposed Active Travel Strategy and Action Plan 2022-2031. The strategy/plan will supersede the current Strategic Plan for Cycling 2016-2025. Interestingly, walking and wheeling have been elevated to the same level as cycling in the new strategy. This focus on improving walking conditions is welcome. According to the most recent Scottish Household Survey (from 2019), around one-quarter of journeys starting or ending in Glasgow involved walking. Less than one percent of journeys included an element of cycling. Depending on your perspective, that might indicate more attention should be given to cycling (to improve the low base) or that more attention should go to pedestrians (because more journeys involve walking).

The strategy attempts to do both, with a vision that “Active travel will be the first and natural choice for everyday journeys”. An important part of this is a network of high-quality infrastructure. The plan discusses a City Network of cycle routes and mentions that these would have accompanying pedestrian facilities. Some of our work at the Urban Big Data Centre has shown that proper cycling infrastructure can increase cycling volumes. The pandemic also showed that when there is less traffic, more cycling seems to happen. It is positive to see that there is also an intention to include pedestrian infrastructure. Measuring the impacts of this is harder due to the lack of data but we hope that, with datasets such as the UBDC’s pedestrian counting project, we will be able to do this for future infrastructure improvements.

The strategy recognises that infrastructure alone is unlikely to maximise the levels of active travel. Some of the work done in UBDC has shown that psychological and habitual factors still influence cycling behaviour, even when extensive infrastructure exists. The plan outlines an intention to “unlock travel behaviour” and enable people of all ages and abilities to travel actively, including offering training to improve people’s skills and confidence levels. Related to this is a desire to change the culture in Glasgow. The Council hopes to achieve this through explaining the need for change, improved messaging, making more information about active travel opportunities available, and capitalising on events held in the city (e.g., the forthcoming 2023 UCT Cycling World Championships).

It will be interesting to see what happens as these national and local policies and plans are developed and implemented. The Glasgow strategy/plan doesn’t give much detail about what aspects of mobility might be measured and how this might be achieved.

At UBDC, we will be looking for ways in which digital footprint data, alongside traditional data sources, can tell us more about what is happening in the city. The potential sources for monitoring changes are data from sensor networks (e.g., cycle and pedestrian counters); counts derived from CCTV cameras; crowdsourced cycling data from Strava Metro; mobile phone data collected by companies such as Huq and Tamoco; and traffic sensors. We aim to use these data sources to keep pace with mobility changes and use our knowledge to help cities take further steps towards a more sustainable future.

David McArthur

Dr David McArthur is the Associate Director for Training and Capacity Building at UBDC and is a Senior Lecturer in Transport Studies at the University of Glasgow.