How thousands of cyclists rode on Holyrood to reclaim the roads

The deaths of six cyclists on Scotland's roads this past year inspired a new campaign for more to be done to improve safety. As Michael MacLeod discovered, what started as a modest protest gathered pace to become a rally for thousands.

It started as a trickle, but soon built into a throng.

Pedal-powered, they came in their droves from near and far, quietly snaking their way along roads and across bridges, determined to lend their support.

What had started as a few voicing concern had suddenly become a movement, a campaign for change. A protest that could very well make history.

There were few early clues that something of this scale was on its way to Edinburgh.

Organisers of Saturday's Pedal on Parliament event said they were quietly confident that with the right weather they may manage to muster a few hundred people.

No roads were closed, no barriers erected.

Their hopes were simply to remember those who lost their lives on Scotland's roads and to call for more provision for the nation's cyclists.

Lothian and Borders Police were happy to facilitate them, a nice touch on their part ensuring officers on duty joined the crowds on bikes rather than squad cars or vans.

Yet by afternoon an estimated 3,000 people had converged on Middle Meadow Walk, united by the deaths of those six cyclists in 12 months on Scotland's roads.

The sheer scale of the turnout itself spoke louder than any words.

The Pedal on Parliament was swelled by more than a dozen convoys riding from all over Scotland to the capital.

They crossed the Forth Road Bridge from Fife, Dundee and as far away as Aberdeen, all linked - part of the way at least - by the National Cycle Network.

In Glasgow a feeder ride set off at 9am, following the A89. A further four pelotons came from Larbert, Falkirk, Linlithgow and Kirkliston, some of them merging on the way.

Later at 11am riders from Dunbar, North Berwick and Longniddry also set off.

There were a fair number of MAMILs - middle aged men in lycra - but many of the riders appeared to be families, especially in the Edinburgh-based groups that had converged from Gilmerton, Portobello, Leith and Harrison Park.

As well as hardcore road cycling club members, the luminous convoys heading for the city included teenagers on BMXs, children on wooden balance bikes, pensioners, tandem riders, layback bikers and at least two unicyclists.

Beneath the day-glo vests and helmets were mums, dads, children, grandparents, politicians, students and even the odd dog or two.

Anthony Robson of Edinburgh's CityCycling website poetically predicted it would be a chance to "revolt, rise up, send the cries up and picnic."

But before they reached their destination, core organiser David Brennan was waiting in the Meadows, worried the turn out wouldn't match the thousands that signed their internet petition.

"After all the noise we've made online, we just don't want to look stupid," he had confessed.

"We've had lots of good press, we've got the weather and now we just need the people."

Brennan and his Pedal on Parliament co-organisers admitted they had never organised a big event in their lives.

For the eight-strong team of writers, lawyers, physicists and - crucially - drivers, Saturday was the first time they had all met in the same place, having used Twitter and emails to coordinate much of the event.

Brennan started the grassroots campaign just two months ago, inspired by plans for The Big Ride in London on the same date.

In doing so, they had attracted the support of Scotland's most famous riders including Mark Beaumont, Sir Chris Hoy, and Graeme Obree.

By 2pm around 100 people were gathered at the crossroads in the Meadows.

Fellow organiser Kim Harding said that on Friday night before he went to sleep he had "no idea how many people would come."

Were the organisers and their friends the only ones who felt strongly about making Scottish roads safer? Had the message reached beyond the niche?

Over the next hour, Brennan, Harding and their team soon found out. They were behind one of the largest cycle protests the nation has ever seen.

The feeder rides arrived from every direction, gliding quietly between the newly blossoming Meadows trees. The crowd they had drawn to the heart of the city was ten times bigger than they, and police, had expected.

The turn out suggests their manifesto, struck a chord. For all that the protest wanted to say to anyone who would listen; the sentiment was most evident when nobody said anything. Nobody spoke or made a sound during a minute silence at 3pm before the ride began.

Some shed tears remembering the cyclists who would undoubtedly have been there had they been alive.

Among them Lynne and Ian McNicoll. They are still awaiting the full police report into the death of Andrew - Ian's son and Lynne's stepson.

He was just 43-years-old when he was killed in a crash on Lanark Road in January. The couple have set up a charitable trust in his name aiming to make roads safer.

It was a landmark day for the McNicolls for many reasons, not least that it was the first time in around three years that they had both felt compelled enough to cycle.

"I just don't feel safe on the roads, and that's not the way it should be," Lynne said. "Andrew would definitely have been here, so we had to get our bikes out and give it a shot again.

"It's too important not to.

"We only rode here from our house in the west of Edinburgh. That was a big deal for us but some of these people have come from Glasgow and Aberdeen. It's just incredible.

"We want the politicians not only to listen but to take action."

The end of the minute silence was welcomed by the ear-piercing sound of 3,000 bike bells, horns, whistles and whoops.

And then they rode.

The organisers' modest expectations of a few hundred cyclists showing up meant no arrangements had been made to close roads. Lothian and Borders Police, who had deployed officers on bikes, had their work cut out ensuring the huge wave of cyclists was given plenty of room as it crossed Forest Road heading for the Royal Mile.

The rally crossed George IV Bridge, passing Augustine United Church, where many of the riders packed a cycling-themed election hustings just a few weeks previously.

Cycle safety is now a hot topic of the city council election.

As the wave of riders rolled down the Royal Mile, a taxi driver was pulled over by police for trying a U-turn, causing a few raised voices from the riders.

Aside from that, and some wobbly cobble stones, by all accounts the ride went smoothly.

Some of the motorists waiting for the cavalcade to pass joined in with the fun, high-fiving riders as they free-wheeled past.

For some, the rally was a chance to show off other talents too. Like playing a guitar at the same time as riding a bike.

And that, so say the campaigners, was the point; to prove how easy riding a bike can be, but in some places currently isn't.

The crowd then gathered outside the parliament building for speeches from the McNicolls and politicians. Children paddled in the ponds while others picnicked on the man-made grassy verges.

The sight outside Holyrood was, in the words of Edinburgh's Innertube cycle map founder "amazing". You can hear it in Tom Allan's voice in this video clip of the huge crowd.

"This kind of protest is exactly what the architects had in mind when they designed this part of the parliament," Alison Johnston MSP told the crowd.

"Less than one penny in every pound in Scotland's transport budget goes to cycling and we need to keep up the pressure to see that increase."

Transport minister Keith Brown wasn't present at the ride, so his SNP colleague Jim Eadie accepted the petition on his behalf.

Famous for riding alone across the world, celebrity cyclist Mark Beaumont said riding alongside thousands of others was "an eye-opener".

"The organisers expected around 300 people and police have just told us more than 2,500 showed up," he said. "And that was the conservative estimate from the police. It's a phenomenal voice and an amazing show of support for the manifesto for safer cycling in Scotland.

"It was an amazing thing to be part of.

"Here in Scotland the elections are coming up this week and there might well be a fair bit of political change. So we want to make sure that safe cycling and good infrastructure for that are right at the top of the agenda."

Asked if he felt enough was being spent on cycling in Scotland, Beaumont said: "I know we're going through tricky times in terms of the budget but it's joined up thinking that's lacking, not necessarily money.

"When road is resurfaced, it's actually not that easy for a cycle lane to go in at the same time just now, due to red-tape. A truly cycle-friendly country will see past that and build cycling into its way of doing things."


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