Sunday, 26 February 2012

Towpath consultation: Does anyone understand it?

Cllr Klute Jnr demonstrating the effectiveness of the chicane from Packington to
Baldwin Terrace in slowing down cycles and mopeds on the towpath.

As the local councillor who has been largely responsible for badgering British Waterways out of their bunker mentality, and persuading them to try and do public consultation properly, I would like to offer my views on their current ‘consultation’ on options for the towpath, which I suspect are, unfortunately, somewhat baffling for  most people that have seen them.

The springboard for the current consultation was the fairly constant noise in the local press, and at Friends of Regents Canal meetings, about the unsustainable conflict between pedestrians and cyclists on the towpath.  This is since the towpath has become a popular commuting route for a type of cyclist that likes to ride as though involved in some kind of competition speed trial.  This behaviour is, as I have said many times before, completely at odds with the towpath environment, which, like the rest of the canal, has historically operated at speeds of around 4 miles per hour, whether you are a pedestrian, boat, recreational cyclist, horse or duck. 

It is the popular view that the canal should remain a place of calm and relief from busy London life, and high speed cyclists are very much at odds with this point of view.

Credit where credit is due, Dick  Vincent and Tav Kazmi of British Waterways have done a very thorough job of engaging local stakeholders regarding this issue, they have held numerous meetings with Islington Cyclists Action group, Living Streets, Local Councillors, Hanover School,  and other interested  local residents.  They have taken on board the conflict issue, and have publicly said that the increase in use of the towpath by cyclists in a hurry is “unsustainable”.  So far so good.

Unfortunately, they have now engaged a landscape architect to deliver their vision,  who seems to think, rightly or wrongly, that the brief is to beautify the canal towpath, using modern finishes, changes in texture, and public art, perhaps in the hopes that these surprising new innovations will distract speeding cyclists into slowing down and admiring their environment.  I think this is unlikely.  Cyclists in a hurry will simply plough on.

Having established the crux of the problem, I think British Waterways need to focus all their efforts, and whatever limited funding is available in the current climate, on physical measures to encourage speeding cyclists off the towpath, using whatever means are necessary.  This needs to happen, as I have also said many times before,  in conjunction with improvements to the ‘parallel route’ of roads that follow the route of the towpath – in particular dramatic improvements are needed to the crossing on New North Road next to Gainsborough Studios, which is an issue for Islington and Hackney Councils. And we as Local Councillors need to take this forward.

I am fully in agreement with British Waterways that speeding cyclists need to be persuaded off the canal towpath. But where we differ is that I think boring, old-fashioned physical barriers, such as chicanes (see the photo at the top of this article), are the answer, not the fancy finishes being put forward by British Waterways’ landscape architect, which we can’t afford, and which frankly, won't do the job.

1 comment:

Felix said...

I agree Martin. We are not there yet. Before we start looking at exciting plans for seating it would be nice to see BW give some thought to rubbish bins and graffiti removal. Both have a significant impact on the 'feel' of the area.

I am also perplexed why the stretch from New North Road to Rosemary Junction has not been included in the plans!