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Canal & River Trust wants your views on sharing towpaths

Consultation on proposed Towpath Code will close on Friday, May 2

A consultation on towpath use being conducted by the Canal & River Trust with a view to introducing a code of conduct for users will close on Friday 2 May – and it is running an online survey to canvass the views of those who use the paths along the waterways of England and Wales.

The charity is currently drawing up a National Towpath Use policy with the help of local authorities and communities, aimed at improving the experience of people who use towpaths as well as encouraging safe, shared use.

It also wants to attract more visitors – according to the Canal & River Trust, half the population of England and Wales live within five miles of one of the waterways

A six-page document, Sharing Towpaths, outlines the background to the consultation and also sets out a proposed Towpath Code, which is repeated at the end of this article.

The document notes that most towpath users are pedestrians and emphasises that they have to be given priority by cyclists.

Possible steps to encourage safe sharing include erecting “pedestrian priority” signs; using more volunteers to patrol paths; and perhaps even “physical measures with the aim as not to inconvenience.”

The trust says it may also introduce campaigns along the lines of the Share the Space, Drop Your Pace initiative which introduced a code of conduct for London’s waterways such as the Regent’s Canal, used by an estimated 500 cyclists an hour at peak times.

Feedback can be given either by completing a survey or by email, with views being sought on the proposed Towpath Code as well as in the following areas:

  • Do you experience problems on your local towpath?
  • What additional priorities should we address in our code of conduct?
  • What behaviours should we seek to encourage?
  • How should we encourage better sharing of towpaths?
  • Should we adopt the same approach in all areas, urban and rural?
  • How should we balance the needs of busy communities with capacity of the towpaths in those areas?

Here is the proposed Towpath Code, based on the one developed for London under the Share the Space, Drop your Pace campaign:

Share the space – consider other people and the local environment whenever you’re on a towpath. 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 shared spaces where pedestrians have priority and vehicles, except bicycles and mobility aids, are generally excluded.

Be courteous to others – a smile can go a long way. Abusive or threatening behaviour is no acceptable and should be reported to the Police.

Follow signs and obey local bye-laws – 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.

Give way and use common sense when travelling in large groups, especially if you are running or cycling.

Avoid wearing headphones as this makes you less aware of your surroundings, possible hazards and others sharing the same space.

Keep dogs under control ideally using a short lead on busy towpaths and clean up after them.

Dog fouling is unpleasant for other towpath users and is a health hazard.

At all times, keep children close to you and encourage them to learn and follow the Towpath Code.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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