Monday, 8 June 2015

Reporting Issues to CaRT (1)

The View From Over Here. Is an occasional series of observations of life along the canal and river network. It gives this writers perceptions of what he sees, hears and learns from other people and various other sources. 

I have come to the conclusion that because of the apparent increase in the gravity of cycling incidents we are witnessing along the towpath. It would be a good idea for all waterways users to report all instances to the Trust.

While recent incidents have involved cyclists. We should not limit reporting what we witness to just the cyclists. I think that boaters can become much more proactive in reporting many other issues other than just cycling related incidents. It is also important to report all near misses as well as actual accidents.  

What has the trust done to address the problem?

Ducking the issue.
The Canal and River Trust has painted some pathways with 'cycle lane' type of markings for the ducks. This is the trust being proactive as part of the 'Share the Space and Drop Your Pace' initiative. The duck lanes are intended as a reminder to everyone of the welfare of birds who live on canals. It does not act as a reminder that people walking on the towpath have priority. It does not act as a reminder that people on the towpath could be deaf. It does not work in a obvious sort of way. It is at best a subtle reminder that might be lost in the noise.

At the end of May this year the Independent reported that duck lanes have been introduced to towpaths in London, Manchester and Birmingham. I spoke recently to Richard Parry - who brought up the issue. Richard said that he was quite pleased and that it was thought by the trust to be a good idea. I can see a 'fun' element as well as the possibility that one or two people will give a moments thought. The other side of the coin is that boaters (who are on the front line) see, what are already being described as the 'Daffy Duck' lanes as just trivialising the issue.

I said to Richard that we had seen cyclist dismount signs that had been vandalised. While we all know there is a tendency towards wanton vandalism by a minority of the disenchanted youth of today. Cyclists also have a vested interest in removing such notices. I told him that my preferred option would be the painted warnings on the hard surface of the upgraded towpath - which by their nature are hard to miss and equally hard to vandalise.

So how can boaters do their bit to finding a solution?

The trusts does not describe what it considers to be incidents or near misses. So what represents a near miss? Well for me it would be where I could have been injured or worse. Paraphrase if I had been a few seconds earlier or later. Or maybe if something falls from above which could be anything that has come loose to something that was deliberately thrown. The remit could also be widened to report anything that you feel actually places you or anyone else at risk. There have been times when I have thought that some of the large unmanaged trees overhanging the waterway present a risk. Albeit low, unless the weather is becoming a factor. Maybe if some of the more obvious overhanging trees were highlighted there would be less short term stoppages for the removal of fallen trees. If the trees don't belong to the trust it could be proactive in raising the issue with land owners.

The trust has a downloadable PDF form for recording the details. However, unless the boater has access to suitable PDF software and a printer. This method is pretty limited and actually discourages people from reporting incidents. Maybe the trust should start by sending out a copy of the form each year with the new licence documentation. In that way if you have already used a form. Other boaters in the vicinity could also have a copy available.

You can find the form here: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/media/library/1180.pdf

However, in the first instance, in the case of an accident or where you think other users are placed at risk. It would be useful to be able to report such incidents by email or telephone. 

I remember a year ago reporting a building next to the canal towpath that had collapsing window arches and loose brickwork that was in danger of falling onto the towpath. 

I had a return phone call where I was able to give additional information. I never got a call to say the issue had been resolved. In a few days time we will be passing the building again on our way into Birmingham. It will be interesting to see if anything has been done.

I reported 18 months ago another canal side building where much of the existing old  building has previously been demolished. However, a residual wall with a huge concrete window lintel has huge cracks in the masonry. The buttress had slipped already towards the canal. The wall is teetering on the canal edge and the water laps at the base. When it eventually falls, it will block the canal - hopefully a boat will not be passing at the time.

Here is where there is yet another significant problem. More than a year later the problem is still there. Waiting for some bad weather such as a strong wind. The issue I raised seems to remain unresolved. At one time the banksman would have spotted such issues and reported them periodically. Maybe upping the urgency as things deteriorated further. However, unlike the banksman of old, for a boater there is a dilemma.

Here is where there is yet another significant problem. More than a year later the problem is still there. Waiting for some bad weather such as a strong wind. The issue I raised seems to remain unresolved. At one time the banksman would have spotted such issues and reported them periodically. Maybe upping the urgency as things deteriorated further. However, unlike the banksman of old, for a boater there is a dilemma. 

Has someone already reported the issue? Are you only duplicating the report? Does the trust judge the urgency by the number of reports it gets?   There is no way of checking, you can't ring customer services and ask if they know about a certain issue. I know, because I have tried. It is much easier and less troublesome to assume that someone else has reported the issue. Therefore yet again boaters are being discouraged from reporting such issues.

There is a solution - its called the Internet. Today there are many canal applications that boaters are already familiar with. One such application is CanalPlanAC which you can use to map your journey from place to place. Canal plan has a series of drop down menus where you can select a location from. You first choose a waterway, then a section in that waterway, drilling down to a specific place. 



Imagine if the Canal and River Trust had a similar website application. Which could be accessed through a SmartPhone or a computer web browser. Where you could navigate to down to a specific location using drop down lists. To choose an asset, say for instance a lock. Where your could then view all unresolved instances of issues. Then, if you are reporting something not already reported you could add a new report. If the issue has deteriorated, you could add additional information to the report.

We are not talking about 'rocket science' this is a typical mapping solution linked to a fault recording database. I am minded of a waterways saying - 'Welcome to the Canal and River Trust waterways - now please set your wristwatch back 250 years.' We don't even use the old banksman any more. So maybe we should set our wristwatch back even further. 

I have said it before, we have to work with the trust - first in raising our concerns. Then in encouraging them to address the issues in a sensible and effective way. We have to work with the trust because there is currently no plan 'B'.  But the trust also has to work with the boaters, who are after all, its best eyes and ears on the waterways. Certainly since the demise of the banksman.

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