The Canal & River Trust, the body that looks after more than 2,000 miles of waterways in England & Wales, is seeking the views of runners and cyclists about how they use towpaths – including ones who use Strava to try and set the fastest time on specific segments. Installing more speed bumps, rumble strips and chicanes to slow anti-social riders down is one option it is canvassing opinion on.
Cyclists riding too fast on towpaths, where people on foot have priority, is a longstanding issue, and was explored in-depth in an article last year on road.cc.
If the comments to that article are representative of our readers, the overwhelming majority believe people who take to the towpath on their bike should ride considerately and not be looking to set fast times.
Canal & River Trust ranger Dirk Vincent told us that besides it being “pretty dangerous” to try and set a Strava KOM on a towpath, it was also a “hollow victory” since “they’re not the Alpe d’Huez.”
BikeBiz executive editor and cycling author Carlton Reid spotted that the Canal & Rivers Trust is now running a survey on the issue.
— Canal & River Trust (@CanalRiverTrust) December 12, 2016
It aims to discover "as much as possible about what you think of our towpaths and our plans to make them better as this will help ensure they are as good as they can be."
The charity’s Better Towpaths For Everyone policy says that priority should be given to the people on foot, given towpaths are a shared environment with users including families with children, dog walkers and boat-dwellers, as well as cyclists and joggers.
Last year alone, there were 385 million visits to towpaths, and the organisation has also introduced a Share The Space, Drop Your Pace campaign to encourage users to slow down.
Nevertheless, the problem of some people riding too quickly persists, and the Canal & River Trust, among other things, wants to find out whether respondents would like to see more speed bumps or chicanes, as have been introduced in some places, more widely deployed.
In its survey, it says: "We love cycling and running on towpaths - and these activities will always be welcomed - but we know that some people don't always use common sense and travel too fast. This can obviously be dangerous and can, occasionally, cause accidents."
As with public roads, there are no speed limits for cyclists on towpaths, but the Canal & River Trust raises the prospect of introducing an unofficial one, saying: "There isn’t any evidence to say that an unenforced speed limit would be treated as a 'good guide' for moderating pace but there is a school of thought that if there was a limit some visitors might treat this as a ‘speed they are entitled to do’ which would be wrong indeed.
“Not all towpaths are the same, so it wouldn’t be possible to have one limit which would suit all locations at all times."
It specifically asks whether cyclists are Strava users, and whether reasons for them riding quickly include "Trying to beat a certain time for my journey" or whether it’s due to "Long, straight stretches of towpath," “How much of a rush I’m in to get to work / school / whatever,” or “How busy or quiet the towpath seems to be.”
The survey says "We all know if we're going too fast … a combination of common sense and fear tends to let us know this,” and goes on to ask respondents how they last knew they were going too fast, with potential responses including: “Someone shouted at me,” “I got scared,” “Someone else looked scared,” and “I fell off my bike.”
It may sound a bit anti-cycling, but the Canal & River Trust is keen to underline that isn’t the case at all.
It says: “We love cycling and running on towpaths – and these activities will always be welcomed – but we know that some people don't always use common sense and travel too fast. This can obviously be dangerous and can, occasionally, cause accidents.”
Other questions include whether the respondent has ever been pushed into the water by someone else on the towpath. That's a concern for many cyclists, as highlighted by a series of incidents in London earlier this year that police believed were all linked to the same gang.
The survey can be found here. It takes around five minutes to complete, and is open until 20 January 2017. The results will be published a month later There’s a prize draw for participants who have the chance to win one of three £50 Wiggle vouchers.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.