CANAL COL­UMNS

Canal Boat - - This Month - STEVE HAYWOOD Award-win­ning cur­rent af­fairs TV pro­ducer, jour­nal­ist and au­thor who has been a boat owner for nearly 40 years Follow me on Twit­ter @Cut­dreamer

CRT is sell­ing us out on the tow­paths; plan­ning an in­te­rior is al­ways a com­pro­mise

They’re ‘im­prov­ing’ 16 miles of tow­path be­tween Padding­ton and West Dray­ton in Lon­don. There’s been a Canal and River Trust ‘con­sul­ta­tion’ on it which be­gan on 24 Oc­to­ber and closed on 30 Novem­ber – so you’ve missed it. Not that you missed much.

Ac­cord­ing to Susannah Miller, co-ordinating the pro­ject, it wasn’t ‘a con­sul­ta­tion in the for­mal sense of the word.’ Damn right it wasn’t, Susannah! A more hon­est way of putting it would be to ad­mit that it wasn’t a con­sul­ta­tion at all. It was a PR ex­er­cise to jus­tify ac­tion that’s al­ready been de­cided.

So what is CRT go­ing to do, then? In its own words, this pro­ject – iron­i­cally chris­tened ‘Qui­et­way’ – will mean ‘bet­ter qual­ity sur­faces’ on tow­paths, and ‘wider paths’. The ‘im­prove­ments... will bring huge ben­e­fits to ev­ery­one’, it claims. My friend Alex Richards got it spot on. “This is just an­other ex­am­ple of CRT sell­ing out to Trans­port for Lon­don and the cy­cling lobby SUSTRANS. Pri­ori­tis­ing their in­ter­ests over the rest of us.”

Alex asks the ba­sic ques­tion, how is it go­ing to make things bet­ter? Bet­ter for whom? Well it’s true that as boaters we will – or at least where pos­si­ble – have a 40cm strip to ham­mer in our pins. Gen­er­ous or what? For walk­ers the con­ver­sion of the tow­path to Tar­mac will mean fewer pud­dles – but the smooth, nar­row sur­face will make them vul­ner­a­ble. “Will 40cm of muddy grass be bet­ter for an­glers?” asks Alex. “Will it be bet­ter for fam­i­lies feed­ing ducks with what will be vir­tu­ally a road be­hind them? It’d be like tak­ing them for a pic­nic on the hard shoul­der of the M25.”

Wildlife is not go­ing to ben­e­fit by this plan, he ar­gues. CRT makes big play of the tow­paths as ur­ban cor­ri­dors of na­ture, but this will be shown up as a hol­low boast when hedges and trees are cut back in or­der to clear pas­sage for those us­ing the Tar­mac.

And, of course, we all know who IS go­ing to be us­ing the Tar­mac, don’t we? It won’t be cy­clists – well, not if you’re a fam­ily hav­ing an af­ter­noon out­ing on bikes, with the kids on train­ing wheels. Or a young­ster build­ing up your con­fi­dence. Or some­one in their later years re­dis­cov­er­ing cy­cling as an aid to fit­ness.

No, these cy­cle paths – for that’s what they are – will be dom­i­nated by ur­ban com­muters try­ing to get to work on time, or by Ly­cra louts lit­er­ally rac­ing against the clock, try­ing to knock a sec­ond or two off their per­sonal best on time trial com­puter sites.

They are peo­ple with no sense of what 20mph looks like to a pedes­trian pottering along what was once a quiet tow­path, peo­ple who have no idea of how eas­ily they can hit peo­ple step­ping off a boat inat­ten­tively, peo­ple who have no imag­i­na­tion to pic­ture what dam­age can be caused to the vul­ner­a­ble hu­man body by a lump of metal hit­ting it at speeds half what they’re trav­el­ling.

Really, this has got to stop. We’ve had enough of these fraud­u­lent con­sul­ta­tions which are no more than at­tempts to pre­tend that any­one is tak­ing any no­tice what­so­ever of our views as boaters. The facts are plain: we spend more time on the tow­path than any­one in CRT head of­fice and we have been telling them for years about the grow­ing men­ace of tow­path cy­clists. Talk to us individually and there will be vir­tu­ally no-one who this last five years hasn’t been hit or nearly hit by a cy­clist. And those who haven’t will know some­one who has.

But still CRT keeps en­cour­ag­ing faster tow­path speeds by build­ing faster tow­paths. It has been a prob­lem in Lon­don for years, but now it is be­com­ing a na­tional prob­lem as more sports cy­clists are us­ing tow­paths in other ar­eas of the sys­tem. And it is sim­ply no use as a re­sponse trot­ting out a se­ries of bum­bling plat­i­tudes about ‘shar­ing the tow­path.’ I am quite will­ing to share the tow­path; I can’t think of a boater who wouldn’t feel the same. But ask some of these speed­ing cy­clists – if you can stop them – and you’ll find that they aren’t too keen on the idea. In fact, many of them don’t even think we should be on the tow­path. That’s why so many of them shout at us to get out the way. That’s why they use their bells like car horns so they don’t have to slow down.

If tow­paths have to be im­proved, then they should be im­proved with a view to the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who use them. They should left as far as pos­si­ble as grassy paths, but if this isn’t pos­si­ble, they should be im­proved by mak­ing them soft sur­faces, gravel or peb­ble to dis­cour­age high cy­cle speeds.

But that wouldn’t be enough for Trans­port for Lon­don or SUSTRANS, would it? And with­out them there’d be no money.

‘They will be dom­i­nated by ur­ban com­muters try­ing to get to work on time, or by Ly­cra louts rac­ing against the clock’

Do boaters, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans go to­gether?

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