Monday, 20 July 2015

Cycleopaths and CaRTgate!

Well it seems that a couple of new words have entered the canal vocabulary through the usual channel of social media 'Cycleopaths and CaRTgate!' The furore over cyclists on the towpath and the seemingly - 'rabbit caught in the headlights' - stance, employed by the caring sharing Trust.

I don't believe it, is the well known Victor Meldrew catch phrase. Uttered by Victor, usually when something seems to be completely out of kilter with the basic rules of common sense. Something that causes consternation and beggars belief.

Well I'm with Victor on this one 'I don't believe it' either!

I have to question the priority being given with regard to the general levels of safety for the visiting public to the Inland Waterways. It might be useful to contrast and compare two issues which have a common safety concern.

Quote CaRT: Marple Aqueduct is a scheduled ancient monument on the Peak Forest Canal in Greater Manchester. The Aqueduct has an unfenced parapet on the off side, there is a substantial fall and any fall from the Aqueduct would almost certainly lead to a fatality. Since 2003 there have been near misses recorded and a suicide relating to falls from the unfenced parapet. There is anecdotal evidence of unauthorised access to the area. The ongoing refurbishment project will attract more people to the area, increasing potential risk of accidents. It is the Trust’s view that it is becoming an unacceptable risk and that a parapet should be installed.

Now compare this with the growing number of incidents involving cyclists. Where people on foot are coming into conflict with cyclists on the all weather, upgraded sections of the towpath. There is no segregation in the shared space, as long as you ignore the recently published 'Duck Lanes'. At a time when there are pensioners  getting mowed down - our caring sharing trust comes up with 'Duck Lanes'.  Maybe when someone gets killed - it will be lanes for the resulting 'Funeral Cort├Ęge' next.

I don't remember any meaningful consultations being held to garner peoples opinions and concerns over what would become high speed sections of the upgrades to the towpath. Particularly with regard to the types and nature of safety measures to be installed or in this case not to be installed. I would imagine a safety audit (including a risk assessment) would be made for each section being upgraded.  With the changes that are being made to the various sections of towpath.  If the obvious reduction of 'safety level for people on foot being compromised' was not flagged up in a risk assessment. That would call into question the worth of such a health and safety audit.

I acknowledge that there are significant and growing numbers of cyclists on the towpath. I acknowledge that from my own experience the majority seem to conduct themselves in a sensible way. I also acknowledge that there are significant and growing numbers of visitors to the waterways. (CaRT's own figures have grown from 10 million to 360 million in three years.)  The majority of which we all know will be on foot. I don't want to discourage the numbers of people on cycles and I don't want to discourage the numbers of people on foot.

However, I do want the Canal and River Trust to realise and acknowledge that while many millions of pounds will now be spent on fencing Marple Aqueduct. If that is a fair and proportionate response to such an infrequent safety concern. Then that level of commitment or even more should be given to where the vast majority of visitors will be. On the towpath.

The whole idea of the 're-eduction of delinquent cyclists' who now see the recently up graded (should that now be down graded?) towpaths as providing a convenient time trial and high speed racing venue. The whole notion that you can educate this sort of people into such a change beggars belief. This re-education is not going to be achieved by the handing out of  leaflets. This is not a fair and proportionate response to a serious safety concern that grows and continues to grow day by day. If that were the case, why don't the police just hand out leaflets rather than fines for speeding or driving dangerously on the roads. Continuing with the police metaphor, it is just another CaRT 'cop out.'

Strava provides direct evidence of locations, numbers and the competitive speeds being achieved by the Cycleopaths! Its not a few tens of competitive competitions. Its not even measured in the hundreds of recorded timings. Its not even measured in thousands of instances. Its now measured in the tens of thousands. There are other similar applications to Strava available for smartphones. Where speed measurement and performance between way points can be logged. Who knows what the real number might be!

So my question is - If fencing can be provided for the Marple Aqueduct at a cost of millions of pounds. Then why not also spend money on the installation of speed calming measures. Which to be honest, I would have expected to be provided on the upgraded, all weather, high speed, shared spaces anyway. Safety in the form of speed calming should be built in at the time of the surface upgrade. Not as an after thought, when some court or coroner passes verdict.

Now, we see on line petitions being made to draw even more of the public's attention to the vexed issue that the trust seems to be ignoring. There is also a growing belief amongst some boaters that they have to all intents and purposes been abandoned to face the onslaught. There is also a belief that the trust should be renamed to the 'Cycling and Racing Trust.'  Because in the dash for Sustrans cash - we know who will ultimately be paying the heavy price. So, just who is setting the 'health and safety policy' for upgraded towpaths. Where is the accountability - that is missing from this whole event.

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