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Survey seeks views on slowing down speeding towpath cyclists

Canal & River Trust asks whether more speed bumps, rumble strips or chicanes should be deployed

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.

> Strava users told to cut speed on canal towpaths – "They're hardly the Alpe d’Huez"

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.

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.

> Police link six attacks on cyclists on London canal to 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 joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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48 comments

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nicmason | 7 years ago
8 likes

In urban areas speeding cyclists are definitely a problem.  I tried cycling on a part of a towpath near Limehouse in London and it was terrible. A mixture of people walking at all sorts of speeds in both directions and cyclists  at lots of different speeds in both directions. Some people give way, some people expect you to magically disappear from their path.Some people pass on the left some on the right. It was a lot better on the roads, there was order.  

When I cycle on a heavily used towpath  I slow down, passing a pedestrian giving them 6 inches or a foot clearance when you may be doing 20mph r more is no different to a car doing a close pass on a cyclist.And I would agree unfortunately traffic calming is necessary to deal with the small number whose priority is their own journey and not other peoples safety.

Avatar
ktache replied to nicmason | 7 years ago
7 likes

nicmason wrote:

no different to a car doing a close pass on a cyclist

Calling nonsense on this one.  This fallacy is often trotted out when discussing shared use facilities.  I have been hit by motor vehicles on several occasions, suffered injuries and hospitalised in the worse one.  The drivers suffered no injuries from their incompetences.  I was a passenger in a car that was written off by hitting a roadsign, I felt nothing, no movement at all in the seat, no strain on the seatbelt whatsoever.

Drivers know all of this.  Pedestrians too, they will not intentionally walk in front of speeding car, but many have walked out in front of me, fully aware, whilst  I was giving it the beans on the road, knowing I will have to stop.

I slow down on shared use paths, and even more so when other users are about, as much for self preservation as for not wishing to do any harm to others.  I hit anything I can come off my bike, easily bruises, days of pain, and always the possibilities of broken bones, especially the collarbone. Then I cannot get about on my bicycle.  If you catch the end of the handlebar on anything you are probably coming off, and thats the widest part of the bike.  Pedestrian-cyclist collisions are essentially 2 human sized bodies colliding, the vehicle weight hardly matters.  10kg (ahem) is not 1-40 tonnes.

If walkers were that scared by cylists on shared use paths, we would have a preponderance of fit young males walking on them.  The old, children and women would have been forced off the paths, just as they have been terrified off bicycles on our roads.

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the little onion | 7 years ago
7 likes

Having dealt with canal and rives trust, two things are clear

-they really don't like cyclists and don't want them on the towpaths

-they do pretend they like cyclists if it means they can get a grant for building "cycling" infrastructure.

for example, nearly £2 million was spent on towpaths in Leeds by CRT as part of the cycling cities DfT grant, but they insisted on building speed bumps and using loose gravel surfaces

i have no time for those hypocrites

 

Avatar
petergilheany replied to the little onion | 7 years ago
6 likes

the little onion wrote:

Having dealt with canal and rives trust, two things are clear

-they really don't like cyclists and don't want them on the towpaths

-they do pretend they like cyclists if it means they can get a grant for building "cycling" infrastructure.

for example, nearly £2 million was spent on towpaths in Leeds by CRT as part of the cycling cities DfT grant, but they insisted on building speed bumps and using loose gravel surfaces

i have no time for those hypocrites

 

My experience of them is completely different to the one you seem to have had. I work for the agency that helped create the Share the Space, Drop your Pace campaign and they approached us because we had worked on so many cycling advocacy campaigns and they wanted something that could raise awareness without alienating cyclists who use the towpaths. There was never any sense from them that they didn't want cyclists using towpaths, just their desire to make towpaths as pleasant to use as possible for all users.

As a cyclist, I applaud initiatives on roads to reduce vehicle speeds, as part of any commitment to prioritising vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians. On towpaths, I'd be a hippocrite if I didn't think the same commitment should apply there. There's little scope for infrastructure development such as segregated space and the space available can get really crowded, certainly on the towpaths I sometimes cycle on in London. In that circumstance, it's my responsibiity to take care around pedestrians as I would hope drivers do when I'm using the road. 

Avatar
the little onion replied to petergilheany | 7 years ago
3 likes

petergilheany wrote:

the little onion wrote:

Having dealt with canal and rives trust, two things are clear

-they really don't like cyclists and don't want them on the towpaths

-they do pretend they like cyclists if it means they can get a grant for building "cycling" infrastructure.

for example, nearly £2 million was spent on towpaths in Leeds by CRT as part of the cycling cities DfT grant, but they insisted on building speed bumps and using loose gravel surfaces

i have no time for those hypocrites

 

My experience of them is completely different to the one you seem to have had. I work for the agency that helped create the Share the Space, Drop your Pace campaign and they approached us because we had worked on so many cycling advocacy campaigns and they wanted something that could raise awareness without alienating cyclists who use the towpaths. There was never any sense from them that they didn't want cyclists using towpaths, just their desire to make towpaths as pleasant to use as possible for all users.

As a cyclist, I applaud initiatives on roads to reduce vehicle speeds, as part of any commitment to prioritising vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians. On towpaths, I'd be a hippocrite if I didn't think the same commitment should apply there. There's little scope for infrastructure development such as segregated space and the space available can get really crowded, certainly on the towpaths I sometimes cycle on in London. In that circumstance, it's my responsibiity to take care around pedestrians as I would hope drivers do when I'm using the road. 

 

i don't agree with the view that CRT are pro cyclist. It isn't long since they required cyclists to have a permit to use the towpaths, and the mentality hasn't changed. 

 

i don't think that towpaths offer an opportunity for safe cycling for the masses. There are too many bottlenecks and pedestrians for many cyclists to use them at commuting speeds. I do have a problem with CRT cynically taking money earmarked for mass urban cycling projects that they have no intention of delivering.

Avatar
the little onion replied to petergilheany | 7 years ago
2 likes

petergilheany wrote:

the little onion wrote:

Having dealt with canal and rives trust, two things are clear

-they really don't like cyclists and don't want them on the towpaths

-they do pretend they like cyclists if it means they can get a grant for building "cycling" infrastructure.

for example, nearly £2 million was spent on towpaths in Leeds by CRT as part of the cycling cities DfT grant, but they insisted on building speed bumps and using loose gravel surfaces

i have no time for those hypocrites

 

My experience of them is completely different to the one you seem to have had. I work for the agency that helped create the Share the Space, Drop your Pace campaign and they approached us because we had worked on so many cycling advocacy campaigns and they wanted something that could raise awareness without alienating cyclists who use the towpaths. There was never any sense from them that they didn't want cyclists using towpaths, just their desire to make towpaths as pleasant to use as possible for all users.

As a cyclist, I applaud initiatives on roads to reduce vehicle speeds, as part of any commitment to prioritising vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians. On towpaths, I'd be a hippocrite if I didn't think the same commitment should apply there. There's little scope for infrastructure development such as segregated space and the space available can get really crowded, certainly on the towpaths I sometimes cycle on in London. In that circumstance, it's my responsibiity to take care around pedestrians as I would hope drivers do when I'm using the road. 

 

i don't agree with the view that CRT are pro cyclist. It isn't long since they required cyclists to have a permit to use the towpaths, and the mentality hasn't changed. 

 

i don't think that towpaths offer an opportunity for safe cycling for the masses. There are too many bottlenecks and pedestrians for many cyclists to use them at commuting speeds. I do have a problem with CRT cynically taking money earmarked for mass urban cycling projects that they have no intention of delivering.

Avatar
Christopher TR1 | 7 years ago
1 like

Anyone not fortunate enough to live within sight of Alpe d'Huez, please contact Dirk Vincent, as it seems he is keen to fund trips to said mountain for Strava users.

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gunswick | 7 years ago
4 likes

Where is the consultation to make dog walkers use short non-extendable leads, to wear something hi viz / reflective or lights (like ninjas in winter commuting). Put seperate walk and cycle ways.

Avatar
Paul_C replied to gunswick | 7 years ago
1 like
gunswick wrote:

make dog walkers use short non-extendable leads

that was one of my complaints about them in my survey response...

Those things should be outlawed and banned from sale and use...

The 'springs' in them are completely incapable to stopping a dog running out and the idiots usually have their thumb pressed down on the release so can't react fast enough when the dog starts running.

Avatar
ConcordeCX replied to Paul_C | 7 years ago
2 likes

Paul_C wrote:
gunswick wrote:

make dog walkers use short non-extendable leads

that was one of my complaints about them in my survey response... Those things should be outlawed and banned from sale and use... The 'springs' in them are completely incapable to stopping a dog running out and the idiots usually have their thumb pressed down on the release so can't react fast enough when the dog starts running.

it's a canal towpath not a velodrome. If you're going fast enough for a dog lead to become a problem, you're going too fast for the conditions

Avatar
gunswick replied to ConcordeCX | 7 years ago
1 like
ConcordeCX wrote:

Paul_C wrote:
gunswick wrote:

make dog walkers use short non-extendable leads

that was one of my complaints about them in my survey response... Those things should be outlawed and banned from sale and use... The 'springs' in them are completely incapable to stopping a dog running out and the idiots usually have their thumb pressed down on the release so can't react fast enough when the dog starts running.

it's a canal towpath not a velodrome. If you're going fast enough for a dog lead to become a problem, you're going too fast for the conditions

I disagree. I live in Scotland, and spend 5 months commuting daily in the dark. Dog walkers, wearing dark clothing with no lights or reflectives, with dogs (black labs mostly!) off lead or on extendables are very difficult to navigate safely. Remember the paths are unlit mostly, so my 700 lumen light and rain covered clear lenses glasses have to deal with all this. I can ride at 10 mph and still find this difficult. Extendable leads offer zero recall ability, no lead means the dog does whatever it wants (chases, jumps up at you, runs in front of you).

Speed is not a protection from erratic behavior of many PEDs and their dogs.

* make the paths wide enough, ideally with lanes or something, none of those loose gravel surface crap (although it doesn't freeze over with ice which is great I concede), and PEDs pay more attention and it would be much better.
* busy, shared use paths with heavy streams in both directions needs more organisation (and possible separation of PEDs and bikes).

Avatar
FluffyKittenofT... replied to ConcordeCX | 7 years ago
0 likes
ConcordeCX wrote:

Paul_C wrote:
gunswick wrote:

make dog walkers use short non-extendable leads

that was one of my complaints about them in my survey response... Those things should be outlawed and banned from sale and use... The 'springs' in them are completely incapable to stopping a dog running out and the idiots usually have their thumb pressed down on the release so can't react fast enough when the dog starts running.

it's a canal towpath not a velodrome. If you're going fast enough for a dog lead to become a problem, you're going too fast for the conditions

I both agree and disagree. Those stretchy dog-leads are a menace regardless of how fast you are going, or even whether you are on a bike or not (not good for runners either). They are usually a sign of someone who can't control their dog.

But cyclists should go slowly on canal paths, and I can see its a genuine quandary how to force them to do so. Maybe such paths are just not appropriate as cycle routes at all? I know I decided to find another route in future the one time I used one.
(I mean, not only is it full of pedestrians, you have a large body of deep water right next to you!)

Avatar
Morat | 7 years ago
7 likes

There are some tricky conflicts to be resolved. Firstly, the speed limit on the water is 4mph so anything above a gentle walking pace on a bike appears really fast.

The towpaths were designed for horses (without riders) and you end up with lots of bridges which cause blind corners. It's very easy for pedestrians (who don't even wear high viz, use lights or wear helmets!!!) and cyclists to collide under bridges because it's dark(er) and most people don't naturally walk or ride next to the canal for obvious reasons so they tend to pop out round the bridge with no notice.

Locks are also potential bottlenecks, depending on how much space there is round them - and you won't get much sympathy if you get in the way of someone trying to operate a lock. It isn't dangerous when done properly but when things go wrong they tend to get out of hand really fast and there have been some very unfortunate deaths (including a young cyclist who fell into a lock while trying to ride across the top of some lock gates)

Finally, while cyclists and pedestrians would often like the surface to be improved with hardcore or even tarmac, boaters can't bang their mooring pins into hard surfaces so they end up being unable to moor in the very places which are most popular unless mooring rings are provided which kindof defeat the object by being large lumpy bits of steel sticking out of the tow path.

I'll also admit that there is some resentment amongst boaters that the canals are being turned into hiking/biking resources with incidental boating as a backdrop but frankly that isn't normally much of an issue once you get a few miles out of town.

Avatar
congokid | 7 years ago
11 likes

To quote Helsinki's cycling coordinator Reetta Keisanen, a city - or, in our case a country - gets the cyclists it deserves. Through a process of administrative, ministerial and transport budget neglect as well as a pervading culture of vehicular cycling combined with aspirations toward sporting success and an obvious and long-standing lack of infrastructure, we've somehow arrived at a preference for fast, aggressive primarily city cycling that encourages people on bikes, mostly young men, to go as fast as they can whatever the circumstances, and in particular on traffic filled roads or apparently empty spaces like the tow path pictured above.

Reetta goes on to say: “If you have good infrastructure, you will get good cyclists. It’s the same with drivers and pedestrians.”

I've not cycled on many towpaths, but I'm not surprised that different modes don't mix well on them. The narrowing under the bridge of the towpath pictured above for example would put me off using it as a regular route, and even more so if it wasn't as direct as the road.

The one time I remember using a tow path, on the Thames on the way to the Thames Barrier, a driver in the car park there said I wasn't supposed to ride my bike on it - even though there were signs, that he obviously didn't know about, saying that cycling was permitted.

My point is that we need better towpaths, where conflict has been designed out rather than in, before they can be considered safe, useful or attractive cycling routes.

Avatar
Ush replied to congokid | 7 years ago
2 likes

congokid wrote:

a pervading culture of vehicular cycling combined with aspirations toward sporting success and an obvious and long-standing lack of infrastructure, we've somehow arrived at a preference for fast, aggressive primarily city cycling that encourages people on bikes, mostly young men, to go as fast as they can whatever the circumstances, and in particular on traffic filled roads or apparently empty spaces like the tow path pictured above.

What an interesting insight into your biased and inaccurate mental model.   Vehicular cycling certainly would not encourage law-breaking or discourteous cycling on tow paths.  It attempts to emphasize instead that roads are built specifically to improve sightlines, provide ample space for comfortable, efficient and enjoyable travel through all road users following a common, uniform vehicle code.

And it works well.

 

In contrast the prevailing culture (promoted by hand-wringers like yourself) is that cyclists should not mix with other traffic on the road due to your fear of it.

The result of this is a series of bodged, doomed-to-failure half-measures and the re-inforcement in the minds of motorists and many cyclists that cyclists are not equal road users.  So they ride on "quiet" tow paths which are not capable of holding the volume or speed;  they ride on the "facilities" which people like yourself lobby for (and end up in the inevitable accidents at the massive number of junctions which all such paths have).

 

 

Quote:

My point is that we need better towpaths, where conflict has been designed out rather than in, before they can be considered safe, useful or attractive cycling routes.

Your desire is improbable.  It would be more practical to work towards training cyclists and motorists to use the road properly a.k.a. vehicular cycling and couple this with a serious move to reduce the number of motorized vehicles.  The latter is going to happen and it is ultimately the only solution to this problem.  The question is whether you are going to help with it or are going to put your time into cock-a-mamie experimental "facilities" and attacking cyclists that don't share your predilection for slow, out-of-the-way, inconvenient travel.

 

Meanwhile, enjoy the accidents and conflicts on your towpaths,  on-pavement cycle paths,  superhighways, sharrows,  MUPs and greenways while you inconvenience pedestrians. 

I'll stick to enjoying using the road.

Avatar
Username | 7 years ago
10 likes

What a biased survey.

 

Questions such as:-

"Are cyclists too fast?

Are cyclists annoyingly fast?

Are cyclists dangerously fast? - please choose one".

 

Yes, this consultation will produce valuable data.

Avatar
Man of Lard | 7 years ago
3 likes

Great, introduce some non-DDA-compliant chicanes... Then we can crowdfund the court case and get them removed  1

Avatar
brooksby replied to Man of Lard | 7 years ago
0 likes

Man of Lard wrote:

Great, introduce some non-DDA-compliant chicanes... Then we can crowdfund the court case and get them removed  1

Yeah, because I'm sure we all want rumble strips and chicanes on narrow paths next to, you know, *canals*!

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