London’s Towpaths: The Fastest Way to Slow Down

A guest article by Dick Vincent, London Towpath Ranger, Canal and River Trust

Share the Space is a new campaign run by the Canal and River Trust, encouraging considerate use of towpaths in London. The Canal and River Trust, which will take over from British Waterways as the guardian of London’s waterways later this summer, are calling for all those who use London’s towpaths to follow a new Greenways Code for towpaths and to help keep the capital’s historic network of waterways safe and pleasant for everyone to share.

We, the Canal and River Trust, as guardians of London’s towpaths, are faced with a problem, albeit quite a lovely problem to have. We are just too popular. Our towpaths provide a network of green spaces that seem such a novelty in a city like London. They’re a lovely way to get from A to B by foot or by bike, simply enjoy a relaxing stroll or a picnic lunch. At peak times, however, in busy places like the Regents’ Canal, some 500 cyclists and 300 walkers per hour use the towpath and it’s our responsibility to ensure the towpaths remains safe and enjoyable for everyone. This is why we have  recently launched our Share the Space campaign, as part of a package of measures, to encourage those who use London’s towpaths to be considerate of other users, and help to keep the towpaths as havens for people and nature.

Behavioural change campaigns, such as this, are not new to us. We ran the Two Tings campaign for the past three years, encouraging cyclists to give ‘two tings’ of their bell, to let others know where they are when they are approaching, or wanting to overtake. In terms of raising awareness and engaging with cyclists, the campaign was an overwhelming success. How do we know this? Pretty simple really, just stand on the Regents’ at peak time – all you can hear is bells!

This is why we’ve created this new campaign. Based on our research , which we undertook with Forster Communications and involved focus groups workshops and a canal network wide consultation, we discovered most people are now more concerned about the speed at which other visitors travel and their consideration for others.

Share the Space is for everyone, not just one particular group. We want everyone who uses the towpaths, cyclists and pedestrians alike, to be considerate, and follow our ten point Greenway code;

1)      Share the Space- consider other people and the local environment whenever you’re on a Greenway.

2)      Drop your pace- jogging and cycling are welcome, but drop your pace in good time and let people know you are approaching by ringing a bell or politely calling out before waiting to pass slowly.

3)      Pedestrians have priority- towpaths are Greenways, or shared use routes where pedestrians have priority.

4)      Be courteous to others- a smile can go a long way.

5)      Follow signs- they are there for the safety of everyone. Cyclists should dismount where required and use common sense in busy or restricted areas, recognising that pedestrians have priority.

6)      Give way to oncoming people beneath bridges- whether they are on foot or bike and be extra careful at bends and entrances where visibility is limited.

7)      When travelling in large groups- especially if you are running or cycling, please use common sense and give way to others.

8)      Try to avoid wearing headphones- as this makes you less aware of your surroundings, and others sharing the same space.

9)      Keep dogs on a short lead- and clean up after them.

10)   At all times, keep children close to you– and encourage them to learn and follow the Greenway Code for Towpaths.

And – to be honest – we don’t think it’s much to ask! We worked hard to keep the rules simple, easy to follow and above all else common sense.

We have also recruited an excellent team of Volunteer Towpath Rangers, in all the boroughs the London canal network flows through to spread the word. They run towpath events, act as our eyes and ears but more importantly they’re our ambassadors meeting with local groups and communities.

We’re sure that by spreading the message about Share the Space, we can help relax the towpaths, which can be incredibly congested during peak times with the same success that Two Tings had. We want our waterways to be a pleasant experience for everyone to enjoy, and we would encourage anyone who meets CRT staff or volunteers on the towpaths to say hello and talk about the campaign.

Share the Space is entirely funded through the Greenways fund; a joint venture from Transport for London (TfL), the Mayor of London and the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), which is making enhancements across the capital to facilitate better access for walking and cycling. With the surge in popularity of the towpaths, we are also working with TfL to provide alternative routes, improving the quality of roads in the capital so that cyclists who wish to travel at speed can use the roads safely, and leave the towpaths for those – such as less able walkers or not-so confident cyclists – seeking the more leisurely way of life.

To join the conversation on Twitter, tweet us @BWcomms, use the hashtag #sharethespace, or for further information visit www.canalrivertrust.org.uk/sharethespace

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