Carolyn (CJ) Green watches the goings-on from her tiller.
As you already know, CRT doesn’t possess a magic money pot, so improving crumbling towpaths is not high on its list of priorities. Instead, they look to outside agencies (councils etc.) for assistance. When Sustrans decided to upgrade sections of towpath, CRT must have thought “Whoopee”, I mean what can possibly go wrong? Make the towpaths more accessible, then surely everyone wins?
The problem is that while CRT and Sustrans have put up notices informing us of towpath closures, no-one is being told exactly how the paths will be improved. We do not know what the surface will be, whether grass verges will be retained or lost. We don’t even know if ‘wild moorings’ will still be possible. There’s no mention of the potential environmental impact.
Now, as much as I welcome the thought that I will no longer risk trench-foot squelching through the mud every winter, or break an ankle/leg/hip falling down any of the many cleverly camouflaged potholes during the summer months, I worry that these improvements will actually cause more harm than good.
Spend time on the towpath on any sunny day and it quickly becomes obvious that the idea of ‘Sharing the Space’ is aspirational rather than a reality. With dog-walkers, joggers, ramblers, anglers, cyclists, boaters, parents pushing buggies and toddlers toddling or feeding the ducks, our narrow (usually less than 1m wide) towpaths are already full to bursting. For the most part we tend to treat each other with respect, but just last weekend while locking down a flight I saw several families, all with young children, being forced onto the grass verges so that cyclists could pass. Bells were rung – some persistently – until the way ahead was clear.
The majority of cyclists are considerate and use the bell to announce their presence, but a few are in a hurry and they appear to have decided that they have priority over other users. If you improve the towpath surface to the point that it becomes a cycle-path, then you are enabling these numpties to treat it as a racetrack. The faster cyclists can cycle the more likely it is that someone, be it human or animal, will be hurt – maybe seriously. What happens then? Who will be held responsible? Have CRT or Sustrans undertaken any risk assessment or will they wait until it’s too late? Not so much Share the Space, more Watch this Space.