Whose towpaths are they anyway?

I regularly hear feedback from different people about a few inconsiderate people who don't think about others when they use our towpaths. I say different people, because no one group is flagged up in these comments more than another. I've heard grumbles about cyclists travelling too fast, anglers using scarce moorings, boaters who clutter up towpaths, pedestrians who 'walk in packs' - the list could go on.

If you've had a bad experience from one or another of these groups you're understandably going to feel a bit aggrieved about them - and if it's happened repeatedly, you probably would like to see the offenders 'banished' from the towpath for ever more! I know how it can blot an otherwise enjoyable visit to the canal, as I've met inconsiderate people myself when I've been out on the towpath.

Our towpaths are a fantastic resource for everyone, and we want to encourage everyone to use them considerately and that means understanding and respecting others' needs. The issue of bad behaviour on towpaths led us to run a consultation on 'Sharing Towpaths' earlier this year. It sets out our proposed approach to towpath management to ensure they are shared spaces where a range of uses can be enjoyed.

The reality is that with more than 2,000 miles of waterways, we could never have the number of staff needed to effectively 'police' all our towpaths and be in the right place at the right time to address every incosiderate user or incident of anti social behaviour - and even if we could, would we want to spend scarce resources on an army of 'towpath police' rather than on maintenance or improvements?

I think that the right approach (as set out in the consultation report) is the 'Towpath code' and a 'share the space' approach that encourages everyone to consider each other's needs. We all need be responsible for promoting 'good behaviour' and consideration of each when we're on the towpath. If serious incidents occur then further intervention from us may be necessary, but if we all 'do our bit' I think we can make our towpaths better, fairer spaces for us all to enjoy.

Last date edited: 30 October 2014

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