Tuesday 30 June 2015

The View From Over Here (2)

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. 

Its becoming something of an old chestnut of a topic today - Cycling, the Canal and River Trust and the towpath. Its very easy to get caught up in the cycle bashing euphoria which is so clearly evident on social media. There is little that is hated more by boaters than being put at risk by cyclists other than passing boats travelling too fast.  However, it has to be admitted that the amount of ill feeling that boaters and other towpath user have towards cyclists, is growing. The reasons for the growth are patently obvious.
Cyclist using the towpath do not help themselves towards improving the shared space users - perception of them. If you compare cycle use on our city streets to cycle use on our waterways. I think there are four main differences.
The first issue is that the canals are perceived as being a place for slow leisurely speeds. The Inland Waterways have for many years provided a sheltered, quiet, peaceful, low speed environment for all of its users. Whether the user is on foot or on a boat. The whole perception of the Inland Waterways are a peaceful place to enjoy. 

The View From Over Here is that the Inland Waterways and especially the towpath are about to change significantly. The waterway is going to become a very busy thoroughfare for a much wider variety of users and uses. It seems that the Inland Waterways are about to enter a whole new era. One where the towpath is at risk of becoming a brash, high speed, busy, noisy thoroughfare.

The View From Over Here is that the second big issue is that the scale of the problem, is about to grow even more. The Trust is on a mission to bring a huge increase in the numbers of 'visitors' to the Inland Waterways. The trusts own headline figures suggest 500,000,000 visits each year. There seems to be no limit to the meteoric growth rate. That's equivalent to 1,370,000 people a day. Which equates to around 622 people for each mile of Inland Waterway in any 24 hours period.  However, common sense suggest that the numbers of users in the hours of darkness will be significantly lower. Compressing the number of users into a shorter time space.  There must be a saturation point, where the towpath is going to be full to capacity.

I would think that at a rule of thumb, guestimate the numbers will be closer to 1000 visitors per mile in the daylight hours. The season of the year with shorter daylight hours will also compact those figures even further. However, as we all know in rural areas the users per mile will be lower than in our towns and cities. Where the numbers will grow exponentially.  I have no idea what the saturation level will be.

But there are also other forces at work apart from the trust. The pro cycling lobby is also a significant player in increasing the numbers. The pro cycling lobby are on a mission to  encourage increased use of cycles and the various off road cycle corridors. There are more and more people than ever using a cycle to get around. Therefore the percentage of cyclist as opposed to foot fall visitors to the Inland waterways is going to increase significantly over what it is now. Once more I have no idea what the saturation level will be.

The second issue is a complete change of emphasis.  In many cases use of the towpath is because it provides a 'rat run' route, free from the ever present danger encountered by cyclists in the shared space that are the public roads.  On a scale and speed apart from the pedestrian the cyclist is at the top of the danger list on the roads.  Cyclist always come off second best when in altercations against cars, goods vehicles and buses. 

The View From Over Here is that we have all seen and experienced cyclist who ignore traffic lights. Who also ignore pedestrian crossings and seem to ride in the segregated area that the pavement provides for pedestrians.  That's because the cyclist has the need for speed to get between two different points. The government has in place laws that are intended to protect the pavement. Many of our green spaces such as public parks also have speed restrictions on shared spaces. The CaRT managed Inland Waterways has no such protections in place.

The Canal and River Trust's CEO Richard Parry says that the trust is going to do what the various governments have failed to do over many years on our streets. The trust is going to educate all cyclist into becoming sensible users of the shared space.  Yes, you read that right - the trust is going to educate all cyclist into becoming sensible users of the shared space.
The View From Over Here is, if it will not work on our streets it certainly is not going to work on our Inland Waterways. The government has resorted to compulsion with penalties in place if the rules are broken.  Now the old towpath telegraph has it that the 'Education' is going to take the form a leaflet distributed to cyclists. Mr Parry, please share with us - how this eduction is going to be done and how its success is going to be measured. Are their time scales in place when this eduction is going to start. How do the cyclist sign up?

The third main difference between the towpath and the street is the space to create segregation. Look at the way cycleways have been made on our streets. There is a pavement, The pavement is sacrosanct. It can't be used as a shared space. There is the cycleway which can be created between the road and the pavement areas. It is clearly marked for all to see. Then there is the road which is a shared space for all vehicles including cycles. The users are divided up into their own space. 

The View From Over Here is that much of the towpath is to narrow to create segregated areas. Therefore the users are going to be compressed into a very narrow space. While there are no rules such as sensible cycling speed limits. The problems of conflict between walkers, fishermen, boaters and the cyclist are going to increase. The boater and pedestrian are now at the top of the danger list on the towpath.  Pedestrians always come off second best when in altercations with a high speed cyclist. 

Its 4pm Thursday the 21st of May: We are moored up at Autherley Junc. I am stood on the towpath talking with a couple of other boaters. When two males on cycles riding flat out barged their way past. One missed Mags feet by inches she was sat in a chair alongside the boat at the time. One was shouting 'get out of the 'F'ing way'. The other stopped to turn around and shout abuse at everyone, before riding off again at high speed. I have reported this as a 'near miss' by telephone directly to the trust. Unfortunately there is no one available to deal with this until tomorrow. I wanted to also tell the trust that the Cyclist please dismount from your cycle notices had all been smashed. Not only that but at the pinch point someone had thrown something in the canal which rocked our boat as we passed over.  Its now Friday and no one has rung us back rang back. Its good to know that the trust are interested. I would like to see CaRT educate these users along this section of the canal.

The View From Over Here is that there is a need to put in place some protection for waterways users such as boaters. I see this as a relatively easy thing to accomplish. Two simple actions could reduce the amount of conflict between boaters and the unregulated speed enjoyed by cyclist. In areas which do not have segregated cycling lanes. There should be dismount and walk only - no cycling - zones. These should be put in place at all visitor moorings. The second - no cycling - zone should be put in place at all lock landings. These are the places where boaters come into conflict most of all with high speed cyclists.  this should also include speed calming measures of a suitable type. Including protective barriers at each end of a group of leisure moorings for instance.

The View From Over Here is that there are four further question that this major investment into the Inland Waterways brings: How are the trust going to financially benefit from the increased number of visitors and the increased amount of spend on providing and maintaining an all weather cycling surface?  
What sort of return on this major investment will this attract? 
What impact will this have on the current maintenance underspend? 
What impact will this have on the future of the 'water' half of what is after all, the Inland Waterways?

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