Sunday 20 July 2014

Towpath Velodrome

The Canal and River Trust (CaRT) is on a mission to encourage another charity called 'Sustrans'  to provide some cash for repairing and upgrading the towpath. Sustrans are a leading charity enabling people to choose healthier and safer journeys which including some routes along the canal towpath. At first sight you might think that this is a laudable cause because, as we all know, much of the infrastructure including the towpath is in a poor state of repair. 

Sustrans places a great deal of emphasis on reducing the danger of accidents for cyclists. However in this instance and in this scenario a problem for all none cyclist towpath users is being created and their safety is being compromised.

By way of an example, I heard a story recently, where a cyclist came off his bike when he came into contact with a boaters mooring pin. I'm loathe to speculate about the situation, because, I don't know the full facts. Now in the great scheme of things, I would have imagined that this was something of an unusual scenario. But it was also reported that the cyclist has made a claim against the boater which was apparently successful. So it seems that we are at risk of no-win-no-fee claims from using pins on the towpath. So maybe we should all check that our boat insurance contains third party liability that extends to mooring along the towpath.

Sustrans places a great deal of emphasis on reducing the danger of accidents for cyclists. However in this instance and in this scenario as an unintended consequence, it's creating a problem for all none cyclist towpath users and their safety is being compromised.
Then I remembered that last year, I come into conflict with another cyclist. Who passed through the small gap between me and our boat at a very high speed. After racing with his friends down the Bingley Five Rise towpath. This then reminded me that the year before we came across a cyclist who had fallen from his bike elsewhere on the Leeds Liverpool canal. He had a clearly broken collar bone and possibly a broken shoulder. He was in considerable pain and unable to move. Being a NHS trained first-aider (now lapsed) I could see the level of distress he was in. I even had to restrain his companions from trying to pick him up by the arms! We had to summon the emergency services to help evacuate the cyclist to hospital. The pro's took half an hour to get him ready for transport.

Sunday evening, I am just in the process of stepping off my boat, which is attached to mooring bollards. When a group of three cyclists attempted to pass between myself and a  pedestrian walking the towpath. In an effort to avoid hitting the pedestrian, the cyclist hit the mooring bollard and was thrown from his bike. He narrowly missed his head going through my boat window. We picked him up off the floor, after removing his bike which was on top of him. He was quite shaken and it turns out that two of the group of three are father and son. To which  the father says - 'Now will you slow down - not much good passing the cycling proficiency test. Then he adds 'I might not be able to keep up, but at least I ride safer.'

Monday morning, there are three boaters including myself all stood on the towpath having a conversation and the topic is as you might have guessed - the speed of cyclists on this section of towpath.   At the same time we are being passed with inches of clearance by cyclist after cyclist on their high speed run to work. Their speed along the towpath has to be seen to be believed.  At 08:39 I wrote an email to the trust asking if someone was available to come and witness the danger that walkers, joggers and boaters were being placed in. I thought it might be of some use to discuss the situation and explore what could be done to at least mitigate the risk with the problem of speeding cyclists. I had an acknowledgement of my email in the afternoon.

Tip: We put a fold up chair at the side of the boat which the cyclists move over to avoid. It makes it a bit more safe getting on and off.

Now, I don't consider myself to be an unusual boater. But it seems that I come across at least one incident a year involving cyclists coming into conflict on the towpath. Add to this, rescuing two people within a few days from the canal in Gas Street. Then another lady who had fallen into a lock. There was also an old man who had managed to extricate himself from the water but was suffering from hypothermia, the air temperature was below zero at the time. Or maybe as Mrs Brown might say 'I'm a flipping Jonah'.

There are several very obvious safety issues. The first one is the apparent lack of any care being paid by almost every cyclists to avoid other towpath users. Then there is the seeming lack of any ownership or of the ability to even ring a bell. Though it should also be remembered that not all pedestrians have good hearing. We all know that there has been a take over of the pavements in the street by many cylists. Another is their inability to see a red traffic light. Or to observe one way systems on the road. 

What a wonderful place the inland waterways are. Sustrans says that cars make the roads too dangerous for cycles, Whilst cyclist in turn make the pavement too dangerous for pedestrians. Not wanting to be left out of this two wheeled arms race, the Cyclist and Racing Trust are now making the towpath too dangerous for walkers, boaters and fishermen.

This Laissez-faire attitude by cyclist seems to be becoming the norm on the towpath. I wonder what the trust is planing to do about this ever growing issue. Well there is the CaRT's Cyclists Homepage Where the 'route of the month' is published by CaRT for cyclists. There are also the 'cycling tips' that are published. Possibly the most annoying of all. CaRT only recommend rather than require that cyclists on the towpath obtain third party liability insurance and equip their bike with a bell or equivalent. Makes me as a boater feel like something of a second class citizen. And it feels that I am impinging upon the passing cyclists, by slowing their high speed progress on their towpath velodrome. So like cyclists have done with the pavements in our streets, they are now taking over the towpath.

Another boater moored with us engaged a CaRT employee about the problems on the towpath at this point. He was informed by one of the team that CaRT are 'well aware' of the issue. But there was nothing that could be done about it, 'until a serious accident occurs'. Now that is a pretty awful statement to make. I am somewhat skeptical of the attitude displayed - but it was freely given advice to the boater and would also be presumably be freely given to anyone else who raises the issue. 

Late Monday night we were jolted awake by a crashing noise. I expected to find that someone had come off their bike. On investigation, a team of three 40 something's were trashing the boat moored next to us. I immediately rang for the police to attend. I was able to guide them in to the correct place on the towpath. In the mean time, after also cutting the mooring ropes the vandals had by then turned their attention to another boat. Several other boaters further along the cut had also had mooring lines thrown off the bollards. On seeing the police arrive the brave gang of thugs took to the nearby trees. However, a few moments later I had the pleasure of seeing one of the group taken away in handcuffs. I heard from an officer on the ground that another had been apprehended and another was being tracked. 

Tip: If you find someone messing around with your mooring lines. Blow your boat horn continuously. It has the effect of moving opportunistic idiots along. We have a big loud 'ooo argh' klaxon which seems to work quite well.

Today, we had the expected return visit from the two officers. Afterwards while chatting on the towpath outside the boat, there were cyclists whizzing past. One of the officers said it actually feels quite dangerous standing here.  In a matter of moments a police officer had investigated the scale of the problem. 48 hours later, even after a follow up email about the vandalism of boats - I'm still waiting for the trust to get back to me.

Now, if it seems like a rant against cyclists - well it is. There is after all, a blanket speed limit along the towpath. But to be honest, along unoccupied sections of the towpath. I'm not bothered what speed cyclists travel at, after all its their neck on the line. I have picked them up off the ground before and I'm sure I shall be doing it again. However, its  not rocket science to slowdown where people in all age groups are walking or boats are moored - because then it could be my or your neck that's also on the line. 

Maybe this is a problem that the  waterways partnerships could address as part of their role to work with local councils and focus on local issues. One thing I have noticed is that sections of tarmac encourage high speed while sections that are gravelled seem to reduce speed. Maybe when there is an imminent danger  of suffering 'gravel rash' if you come off your bike is one way to curb speed.

We enjoy cycling and we have an electric fold up bike on the boat, which is used almost every day.  Its even fitted with a sissy bell. 

However we have resisted wearing the 'Lycra and Spandex Uniform' of the T4 crew. That's our new found friend - The Towpath Two-wheeled Terrorist.

Remember: CaRT are 'well aware' of the issue. But there was nothing that could be done about it, 'until a serious accident occurs'. Well I for one don't want to be included in that statistic.

1 comment:

  1. Mike and Mags very well written and shows how this problem is not being addressed by CRT.

    They are happy to have their towpaths made up for free but they are doing nothing to protect boaters, walkers and, in my case, my dogs.

    So I suppose I should keep my dogs on a lead, but I have two, can I get them out of the way in time.

    I cringe when they are not on leads when these bikes come by them, and absolutely hate walking through a bridge hole myself.

    If I can hear one coming I shout out or even jump back if I have started to go under the bridge. There SHOULD be a speed limit but that would never be inforced.

    As far as the boater who lost the case with the cyclist crashing into his mooring pin well... You are right I am going to check with my insurance company next week just where I stand on that.

    My dogs are covered by third party insurance so I suppose that would cover.. but my boat?


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