LETTER: Conflict over cyclists and pedestrians on the canal towpath

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The Independent Online
From Mr Bernard Henderson

Sir: Christian Wolmar's article about his adventures with Steven Norris, the transport minister, on a bike was nicely stimulating ("Minister gets on his bike to peddle the case for cyclists", 22 August). Originally, towpaths along canalsides were constructed for pedestrians and horses, and were also used by anglers. Recently, they have become popular with cyclists, and British Waterways issues free permits for cyclists.

In some areas, cycle traffic has become unacceptably busy, and, as a consequence, dangerous to pedestrians. This is particularly so in some parts of London, where mountain bikes, especially, hurtle along with scant regard for the safety of other towpath users. British Waterways would like to see it made mandatory for an effective horn or bell to be fitted. Few mountain bikes have one. We also feel there should be a speed limit of, say, 6mph.

To get the bikes off the roads is laudable, but to encourage them on to towpaths with scant regard for basic safety is unwise. After all, towpaths are the pavements of the canals, and are often narrower and more winding than pavements on streets.

If cycling on canal towpaths is to be encouraged by the Department of Transport, to what extent is it prepared to fund the cost of maintaining the towpaths and their signage? Boaters pay, anglers pay. Does the minister think we should now sell rather than give bike licences?

I welcome the minister's suggestion of a meeting with British Waterways, the sooner the better. British Waterways supports responsible and safe bike-riding on its towpaths, so that cyclists can coexist in harmony with our other users.

Yours faithfully,

Bernard Henderson


British Waterways


23 August