Bath and North East Somerset Council has successfully applied for funds to improve the canal towpath and to improve access to the canal from Grosvenor Bridge. You would imagine that this would be met with universal approval especially as the funds come from central Government and cost the local tax payer nothing. Well you would be wrong! Money invested in making the uneven, muddy towpath into a flat surface making it easier for walkers, people on bikes and those in wheelchairs – what’s to dislike?
There have been a few letters in the local press from people who don’t want the towpath improved because they believe that it will attract more people riding bikes. Well they are probably right, as that is the intention of the Government money allocated to getting more people on bikes, but it will also make the towpath better for all users.
So I ask the question again – what’s to dislike? It seems that the objectors to the improvements don’t want more people riding bikes on the tow path. Why not? They believe that some people on bikes ride too fast! This belief is correct, some people do ride too fast and they have little thought for other towpath users, but they are a very small minority of users. Why disadvantage the thousands of other users because a few people don’t know how to behave? This makes no sense at all.
The Canal and River Trust has published the results of a consultation on use of the towpaths and as well as being available on line it is on notice board at Bathampton near the floating cafe. See it on line here – Canal and River Trust Towpaths Policy
The Trust clearly want towpaths to be available to all and this is as it should be, considering that the upkeep of the towpaths comes mainly from public money. However, the Trust has not shied away from its responsibilities and has developed three main priorities for improvement – Better Infrastructure, Better Behaviour and Better Signage.
Let’s face it though, there are irresponsible users from all the groups who use the towpath. Fishermen leave their rods across the tow path and discarded line gets entangled with ducks and swans on the canal, some people on foot use the path without any consideration for other users – spreading across the whole path and letting dogs off their leads, refusing to move for others – some boaters leave their litter and stay longer at a mooring than they should and spread their goods across the path (most of them ride bikes too), some joggers sometimes run too fast or splash other people when running through puddles and some people on bikes ride too fast and are inconsiderate to other people.
Those people from all these groups, who are selfish and thoughtless are only a small minority and should not be allowed to destroy the enjoyment of the vast majority of reasonable people, who use the towpaths, or hamper much needed improvements in width, surfacing and access.
Most people using the towpath are only too glad to be in these lovely surroundings and recognise that the towpath is open to all. They mostly behave in a tolerant, thoughtful and understanding way to others on the path. The improvements should add to the enjoyment of all users.
So who is the towpath for? We know that the canal was used as a method of transport for people and goods, some lived and many still live, on narrowboats. In the past horses pulled the boats along the canal from the towpath. Today the towpath and the canal since its restoration and improvement over the past 30 years, are now used for mostly leisure activities such as those listed above. However, at times too the towpath is still a transport route for people walking, running or riding bikes commuting to and from their homes to work. This is usually when leisure use is at a minimum, early or late in the day, so does not interfere with people ambling slowly along the towpath.
British Waterways through the Canal and River Trust, manage the towpath and the quote below seems to encapsulate what the Trust is about:
“We are committed to encouraging better behaviour by everyone on our towpaths, so that people can feel safe and secure when they use them.
We are also committed to improving the physical condition of our towpaths so more people are able to access and enjoy them safely, and over the past two years over £15m has been spent on re-surfacing and general improvements.”
The attitude of not wanting the improvements, because of problems seems senseless and totally opposed to the Trust’s policies. It should be dismissed by local politicians, who should look to follow the Trust’s lead and address the problems, which should not be exaggerated and should be backed up by evidence.
One of the most successful routes for people walking, running and on bikes has been the Two Tunnels. The opening of the route was driven by people who ride bikes, but it has been great for everyone and in its short existence has gathered an enviable national and international reputation. Only last week I spoke to a group of young people using Bath’s hire bikes (Next Bike) and looking for the best way to get on the TT route. They may also have decided that the best way back to the city centre was along the uneven, potholed canal towpath. The towpath can easily use cycling funding to the benefit of all users, just as the Two Tunnels route has done.
Locally we should support the improvement of this wonderful leisure facility and address the problems caused by thoughtless users by supporting and implementing the policies of the Canal and River Trust.