Cycling Scotland Conference 2021 Highlights

24 November 2021    

Over 180 delegates and speakers from around the world joined us online this year for the annual Cycling Scotland Conference, held during COP26.

Exploring the theme of ‘Working together to overcome inequalities, make our roads safer and help us face the climate emergency’, the conference this year brought together professionals from the active travel, health and third sectors, campaigners, local authorities, civil servants, politicians, volunteers, and consultants from Scotland and beyond.

The Cycling Scotland Conference 2021 began with a warm welcome from Chair Alastair Dalton, Transport Correspondent at the Scotsman newspaper, who discussed the opportunities coming up for the sector, notably a tripling of the Scottish Government’s active travel budget. This significant increase will see 10% of the overall transport budget allocated to active travel, £320m a year by 2024.

Keynote speakers

The ministerial address was delivered live from the Blue Zone at COP26 by the newly appointed Scottish Government Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenant’s Rights, Patrick Harvie MSP. The Minister called on the need to build more high-quality, safe and separated cycle infrastructure at a quicker rate, and the importance of culture change at all levels, from local authorities to national government, in prioritising active travel.

The second keynote speaker of the day was Adrien Sartre, Advisor to the Deputy Mayor of Paris. Adrien shared that Paris experienced a 60% increase in cycling between 2019 – 2021. It’s projected that by 2024, with transit-free zones in place in central Paris, more journeys will be made by bike than car. Measures that have helped to encourage this behaviour shift are no-car zones in over 300 streets around schools, creating two-way systems for bikes on all streets to make it easier to cycle than to drive a car, and the Council working closely with community bike organisations to increase cycling.

We were then joined from Uganda by Amanda Ngabirano, former Vice President of the World Cycling Alliance. Amanda shared perspectives from her work as an urban planner in Uganda, on the importance of designing streets for people rather than cars, especially streets where children can safely go outside and explore their environment. Recent street redesign in Kampala is shown below.

Our final keynote speech was delivered by Angela Leitch, Chief Executive of Public Health Scotland. “Sitting is the new smoking” – Angela shared how inactivity leads to health issues, and that areas with higher deprivation are less likely to have good levels of physical activity. Cycling can help to address these health inequalities, affordably, to create a healthier nation - with a stark reminder that failing to invest in active travel impacts on mortality.

Active Nation Commissioner

Active Nation Commissioner Lee Craigie joined us before lunch to share a story about the adventures of Scottish teenager Mary Harvie on her bike in the 1930s and her experience in recreating this journey. Lee inspired attendees to make their health and wellbeing a priority, and use cycling to connect with nature and local neighbourhoods.

Breakout sessions

In the afternoon, two breakout sessions focused on inequalities in climate change and road safety, chaired by Daisy Narayanan, Senior Manager at Edinburgh City Council, and Keith Irving, Chief Executive of Cycling Scotland.

During the climate change breakout session we heard from:

  • Gavin Thomson of Friends of the Earth Scotland, on reclaiming public space for people
  • George Chalmers of Alexandra Park Bike Hub & Milnbank Housing Association, on creating cycling opportunities in the East End of Glasgow
  • Ellie Harrison, artist and activist, who undertook a personal carbon footprint project and documented her experience
  • Evelyn Sneddon and Yvonne Smith of Robert Smith Community Group, on accessing the Social Housing Partnership Fund to regenerate communal space
  • Mirren Kennedy of Rosemount Development Trust on the Equality Cycles project
  • Eleanor Pratt of Adaptation Scotland, on climate change adaptation measures

In the road safety breakout session we heard from:

  • Bertrand Deiss of Transport Scotland, on road design
  • Simon Strain of Sustrans, on the Places for Everyone project
  • Rowena Colpitts of Transport Planning & Engineering, on intuitive cycling infrastructure
  • Isa Mallick of Yusuf Youth Initiative, on developing a Cycling Friendly Community in Dundee
  • Colin Young of Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland, on Cycling By Design principles

Cycling Champion of the Year awards

The day also saw the announcement of the winners of the Cycling Champion of the Year awards 2021, presented jointly by Cycling Scotland, Cycling UK, Scottish Cycling and Sustrans Scotland.

The conference was wrapped up with a summary and a thanks to all contributors and attendees from Chief Executive Keith Irving. We look forward to next year’s conference.