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Canal and River Trust aims to create on-road peak time routes to ease congestion as up to 500 cyclists an hour use narrow shared use towpath

Cyclists have been asked not to use towpaths along the Regents Canal to commute to work as it’s not deemed the right environment to cycle at speed.

The Canal and River Trust says that up to 500 cyclists an hour are commuting on the tow path every day, but other users, like pedestrians and dog walkers, had to share the space and now they are looking to create safe on road routes as diversions for fast riding peak time cyclists.

A spokesman told the BBC there was limited capacity and the path was narrow.

"The capital's canals and canals generally are enjoying this huge renaissance and more people now than any other time in their history are using them for leisure and commuting," he said.

The trust said the main hotspots for commuter cyclists were westbound routes along the City Road basin in Islington and at Victoria Park during the morning rush hour.

"We don't have many people reporting collisions to us, but anecdotally, we do hear some stories," she said.

A spokeswoman from Living Streets, which campaigns for pedestrians and public spaces, said the organisation supported proposals to create parallel cycle routes along the canal.

She added: "Narrow, busy urban canal towpaths do not lend themselves easily to catering for pedestrians and cyclists.

"In tackling this issue we hope pedestrian priority will be upheld, while affording cyclists safe accessible routes."

Ian Shacklock, chair of the Friends of the Regent’s Canal, said that although he supported the canals being a safe leisure area, he thought people chose to ride there because they felt the roads were unsafe.

But it's not all bad news for cyclists. The Canal and River Trust has appointed Rosie Tharp as strategic cycle routes coordinator. Her job will be to create new east-west routes similar to the towpath routes for cyclists to use safely.

She told the Ham & High newspaper: “London’s canals are havens, a place to slow down and escape the noise of the city.

“At peak times, however, it gets very busy and some pedestrians and cyclists are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of commuter cyclists.

“I will be working with local boroughs and cyclists to develop better, safer road routes for commuters so those wanting to go fast can have a safe and attractive alternative to the towpath.”

Two years ago, British Waterways teamed up with etiquette experts Debrett’s to devise a ‘Two Tings’ campaign encouraging towpath users on canal towpaths to be considerate towards each other.

As part of the initiative, Debrett’s drew up a five-point plan for harmonious towpath usage:

  • Cyclists must be aware of pedestrians at all times. Remember that pedestrians have priority – ring two tings on your bell to warn them that you are approaching. Pass people carefully and slowly, and never cycle too quickly.
  • Pedestrians should allow cyclists to pass wherever possible. Don’t forget to listen out for the two tings warning you that a cyclist is approaching.
  • Both cyclists and pedestrians should be considerate to each other, as well as both being extra careful at bends and entrances along the towpath. A smile and polite ‘thank you’ is courteous if someone has let you pass.
  • Respect the environment and the waterway’s natural beauty. Never drop any litter.
  • Dog walkers must always clean up after their dog.

In May last year, the Canal & River Trust launched a new campaign, Share the Space, Drop Your Pace, asking all users of towpaths in London to be considerate towards each other and adhere to a new Greenways Code, which states:

Share the space 

Consider other people and the local environment whenever you’re on a Greenway. Remember some people may move less predictably, for example young children or those with visual or mobility impairments.

Drop your pace 

Considerate sharing of the limited towpath space is the key. Jogging and cycling are welcome, but drop your pace in good time and let people know you are approaching by ringing a bell or politely calling out before waiting to pass slowly.

Pedestrians have priority

Towpaths are ‘Greenways’ or shared use routes where pedestrians have priority and vehicles are generally excluded.

Be courteous to others
A smile can go a long way. Abusive or threatening behaviour is not acceptable and should be reported to the Police.

Follow signs 

They are there for the safety of everyone. Cyclists should dismount where required and use common sense in busy or restricted areas, recognising that pedestrians have priority.



Give way to oncoming people beneath bridges

Whether they are on foot or bike and be extra careful at bends and entrances where visibility is limited.

When travelling in large groups

Especially if you are running or cycling, please use common sense and give way to others.

Try to avoid wearing headphones 

As this makes you less aware of your surroundings possible hazards and others sharing the same space.

Keep dogs on a short lead 

And clean-up after them. Dog fouling is very unpleasant and is a health hazard.

At all times, keep children close to you 

And encourage them to learn and follow the Greenway Code for Towpaths.

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.