Backing Spaces for People bid in Inverness and the Highlands

By John Davidson, convenor, Highland Cycle Campaign

Coronavirus and the associated lockdown have had a devastating impact on so many areas of our lives. Yet the opportunity to get out to exercise on a daily basis, on top of essential journeys including for key workers and volunteers, means we have seen more people in our communities walking and cycling.

People who wouldn’t have considered cycling before because they were put off by the volume and speed of traffic are now pedalling around their neighbourhoods on a regular basis.

It highlights what I like to call the latent demand for better transport solutions and improved design around cycling and walking.

In this bold bid for the Spaces for People fund, Highland Council and NHS Highland have been quick to identify a number of ‘barriers’ which, if removed, could unlock the potential for a genuine shift in favour of active travel.

Our members have many reasons for desiring such a shift, from road safety and air pollution concerns, to improved opportunity for vitamin D intake as well as mental and physical health and wellbeing – all of which can help reduce the long-term burden on our NHS.

This pandemic has given rise to an opportunity to be bold, to test out new approaches.

The proposals outline many positive changes to improve the continuity of cycle routes across Inverness and give more space to those on foot and wheels, which are to be welcomed.

Segregation of cyclists and pedestrians is a vital aspect of bringing active travel into the wider transport conversation, and we particularly welcome the move to take space away from motor traffic to create two-way segregated cycle paths at Millburn Road, Ness Bridge and the Inshes overbridge.

The shared-use path at this latter location was recently narrowed (to less than recommended widths) in favour of adding an extra lane of traffic, despite years of evidence pointing to road building only ever adding to congestion, so it is particularly pleasing to see cycling given proper space at this key location near Inverness Campus.

The idea of closing streets in the Old Town in the evening is also a welcome one. Businesses will be understandably concerned about the future as we begin the recovery from lockdown, but studies have shown that creating more pleasant environments for people encourages them to spend more time – and therefore money – in those places.

The plans show a few options for Academy Street, which was recently found to be one of the most polluted streets in the whole of the country. During the lockdown those illegal levels of pollution have dropped by around 60 per cent, with a huge reduction in the number of cars and lorries taking over this valuable public space in our city centre.

We cannot afford to return this historic part of the town back to the damaging way it was, and the solution here should not involve a compromise in favour of continued domination by motor traffic.

We would welcome a temporarily pedestrianised Academy Street, as suggested in the proposals but not part of this funding bid, with two-way cycle facilities, which would allow residents, businesses and the wider public to assess how this could work in the longer term.

The 22 interventions outlined in the proposal offer some real solutions to get Inverness moving again. We believe many of them should stay for the longer term, and this approach of temporary or trial measures being tested out on the ground could also offer a blueprint for further improvements to the city’s active travel infrastructure in the future.

We will certainly be feeding into the consultation process to make further suggestions and would encourage others – whether they are regular cyclists or new to the bike – to let them know what improvements you’d like to see in your area.

This article was written for the Inverness Courier, published 19/05/2020