THOUSANDS of cyclists are expected to take to the saddle in Edinburgh tomorrow for the second annual Pedal on Parliament event.

Last year the organisers, who anticipated a couple of hundred participants, were amazed and delighted when 3000 pedalled over the horizon to join them. This year, with the involvement of former world champion Graeme Obree and the endorsement of Sir Chris Hoy, even more pedal power is set to be deployed.

Cycling should be a simple idea whose time has come. It is a cheap and available activity that has been shown to have positive effects on longevity, health and well-being. It is a convivial activity and a great morale booster. It is easily incorporated into daily life, especially in summer. It can be enjoyed at any level from a toddler on a pink trike to the Lycra-clad fanatic putting 100k under his wheels each weekend. If enough of us swap four wheels for two, cycling could make a significant contribution to tackling climate change as well as relieving congestion and improving air quality. Yet for generations cycling has been in decline. Transport policy has focused on cars and lorries and the way we travel has made us less healthy. Cyclists have become regarded as a rather eccentric minority, often viewed with outright hostility by motorists. Most Scots now consider cycling too risky, with some justification. (Another cyclist died on Thursday after a collision with a pick-up truck south of Inverness.)

To return cycling to levels that can contribute to healthier living and the shift to a low carbon economy, without a rise in road deaths and injuries, major changes in public policy will be required. As transport is devolved, the Scottish Government must take the lead on this issue.

The SNP administration talks about safer cycling and has a target of 10% of all journeys being taken by bike by 2020 but its rhetoric has not been matched by action.

Around £25 per head per year needs to be spent to achieve that goal. The actual spend is less than £3. Only a concerted campaign, supported by opposition parties at Holyrood, prevented cuts to the budget for active travel (cycling and walking) last year.

The Cycling Action Plan for Scotland contains some welcome policies but falls far short of being a coherent costed strategy for achieving the 2020 target. The Get Britain Cycling Report published last month at Westminster is a fully worked through strategy but, despite its title, is a largely England-only document. Meanwhile, the main recent development in Scotland is a modest publicity campaign asking motorists to give cyclists more space.

If Scotland is serious about cycling, we need to get back to some basics: all new roads need to be wide enough to accommodate cyclists safely. Motorists who intrude on cycle lanes and cycle boxes at junctions should be fined. Training for cyclists should be fully funded and cyclists' awareness built into both the driving test and HGV training. More properly-maintained cycle paths are needed, especially on popular commuter routes. Ambitious visions need comprehensive, coherent strategies to go with them.