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Transport / Far more cycling in Lerwick since coronavirus outbreak, figures suggest

A draft active travel strategy has also been approved by Shetland’s transport partnership ZetTrans

THE NUMBER of journeys people are making by bicycle in Lerwick appears to have increased significantly during lockdown.

Figures collected from automatic counters show that on Knab Road for instance there was an increase of nearly 70 per cent in the number of cycle journeys when comparing August this year and August 2019.

The figures come as a draft active travel strategy was approved at a meeting of Shetland’s transport partnership ZetTrans on Thursday.

The document, which sets out a vision and objectives for active travel in Shetland, will now go out to consultation.

The figures on cycling journeys reflected a national trend of more people cycling and walking during lockdown instead of driving.

The number of bike journeys on the Sletts path was up by 46.7 per cent compared to last August.

The data was collected by Cycling Scotland.

The draft active travel strategy, meanwhile, received a warm welcome from members of ZetTrans on Thursday morning.

ZetTrans lead officer Michael Craigie said “active travel is becoming a very significant feature” of thinking around how people move around.

He said the strategy was partly about “enabling people to make different choices” about how they travel.

A multi-agency group known as the Active Travel Group has been meeting since October 2018 to “coordinate efforts to support and increase active travel in Shetland”.

The group, which includes organisations like Shetland Recreational Trust and VisitScotland as well as the SIC and NHS Shetland, previously received £60,000 in funding for the active travel strategy.

The strategy covers the years between 2020 and 2025 and its introduction says it is “part of Shetland’s wider response to key challenges we face in terms of climate change, population health, socio-economic inequalities, and continued prosperity”.

It states that Shetland has amongst the highest levels of car ownership in Scotland at 74 per cent of households.

Fifty eight per cent of journeys in Shetland are under 5km, a distance which can be cycled in approximately 15-20 minutes, it says.

There are also high levels of people using cars to travel to work.

Around one quarter of primary and secondary pupils walk, cycle or ‘scoot’ to school in Shetland.

This is less than the national average, which may reflect to an extent the remote and rural nature of some parts of the isles.

The strategy, though, admits that current provision of paths for walking and cycling is “unevenly spread and can be of inconsistent quality”.

At Thursday’s ZetTrans meeting chairman councillor Ryan Thomson said the pandemic was the perfect moment to progress with the active travel strategy.

“I think that this is absolutely the ideal time to proceed with this,” he said.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise representative Rachel Hunter asked whether a target was to shift people from using public transport to active travel, or whether it was more generally focused on supporting people away from the car.

Craigie said there was not enough data on this, but he said an aim is to encourage people into “sustainable travel – which includes public transport”.

VisitScotland’s Steve Mathieson was also keen to see more emphasis on promoting Shetland as a destination for walking and cycling.

“From my perspective we have known from more recent surveys that walking is the most popular activity for visitors to Shetland,” he said.

South mainland councillor Robbie McGregor also briefly raised concern over the safety of cyclists and walkers who may be travelling around cars.