Ben - 9's Waterways

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Poo Bags

Dog owners, like their pets, come in a number of different sorts.

Most dog owners, of course, are thoughtful and considerate people who care about other people and about their environment. Some, unfortunately, are not. A small number, it would seem have smaller brains than their pets.

Most dog owners, enjoying a walk along the canal towpath, will take plastic bags with them. Then, when their pets feel the urge to leave something behind, the owners will pick it up in the bag and dispose of it in a bin or take it home with them.

Some, however, who are not so considerate, will not take bags with them and simply look the other way when their pooch crouches down!

Then we have the few dog owners of little brain. They do take bags with them and they do use the bags pick up the poo. But then what do they do? They drape the bags from the branches of trees or hedges! And if there are no handy hedges then they lob them into the cut!

It would be better if they left the poo on the path for others to walk into their homes. Then, at least, any poo left behind will bio-degrade after a while. Not so the plastic bags. They will just stay there until someone takes them off. Leaving the poo in a bag somewhere totally misses the point of picking it up.

An old cynic like me, however, might suspect that these bag danglers are not quite so lacking in brain cells as their behaviour would suggest. It would not surprise me if they take the bags out with them only for the show of it. If no-one is about when their dogs do their doings, then the bags stay in their pockets. However, if anyone is in sight when their dog leaves its message, then they show what good dog owners they are by using the bags to pick the stuff up. But then, as soon as other people are out of sight, they decorate the nearest hedgerow with their stinking trophies.

Have you seen the photo on Pennine Waterways News of the tree in Todmorden that BW decorated with poo bags to make the point?

A great idea for a publicity stunt. However, I suspect that the lazy, selfish, inconsiderate people who do this sort of thing are unlikely to take any notice unless BW staff collect the bags from the hedges, follow them home and deliver it through their letterboxes.

I know that's what I'd like to do!



Thursday, 18 March 2010

Joined-up Thinking?

"Joined-up thinking" is one of those irritating buzz-phrases that sometimes get bandied about by those pursuing their pro-active critical missions of client-focused deliverables. Sad, really, because real joined-up thinking can be a positive advantage in so many situations.

To those of us who have spent time on the waterways over the years, "joined-up thinking" is not something that we would automatically associate with British Waterways.

Take two examples that have recently come to light affecting the Huddersfield Narrow Canal...

Many of you will be aware that the eastern half of this wonderful waterway has been closed since early last September, following a sudden worsening of a long-standing problem at Lock 14e of leaking into the nearby mill. (Read about it here.) Since repairs were already scheduled for January it was decided to stick with that date, rather than bring the work forward, and keep the canal closed until the work was done.

They were then taken by surprise when it snowed in the Winter. Apparently this was not expected and so the date for completing the work was put back.

Then, last week, BW announced that the completion date was being put back even further, to the beginning of April. The reason given? The additional work involved in the "relining of the paddle culvert which has to be done to allow the lock to be reopened to navigation."

Excuse me? Why has this come as a surprise? When BW investigated the serious leak last September, it was found that the new flow was coming from the paddle culvert. So why wasn't this re-lining built into the work that began in January? Or rather, why is it being used now as an excuse for the work taking longer than expected? There's either a complete lack of joined-up thinking, or a complete load of spin going on here.

Now take Standedge Tunnel. It was advertised that the tunnel would re-open this weekend for visitors to enjoy the short trips into the tunnel. But there are no tunnel boats there, because they went away to Liverpool last month for a bit of maintenance. (Read about it here.)

BW complains that the contractors have let them down and the boats will be late coming back. Excuse me? Why were they only sent to Liverpool a month ago? Why was the maintenance not planned for early November? They could have been back before the worst of the winter weather arrived and all ready for this year's visitor season. Why cut is so fine?

Being of a suspicious mind, I wonder whether either of these situations has anything to do with the recent re-organisation at BW. Standege Tunnel and the eastern half of the Huddersfield Narrow have been transferred from the Yorkshire unit to the new "Manchester and Pennine" unit, along with the western half of the HNC, which was previously in the North West unit.

Did that imminent change of management lead to decisions being put on hold? Was there a feeling of "well, it will be someone else's problem soon"? Did some people not want to take decisions that would affect their successors? Did some people not want to spend money that would later have to come from someone else's budget?

These may seem rather unkind things to think but they are the questions that present themselves when I ponder on these issues. The only other explanation I can think of is a complete lack of joined-up thinking. Surely not?



Friday, 5 March 2010

Record Breaking on the Leeds and Liverpool

Mr PW keeps asking me to write a piece for this blog. I keep telling him that nobody reads it but he assures me that someone called Andrew Denny does, so - just for you, Andrew - here are a few thoughts about Record Breaking on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal towing path.

Now, just in case you are wondering, I am not talking about violent protests involving piles of Des O'Connnor albums, but of over-speedy cyclists.

It seems that the Leeds and Liverpool, being Britain's longest canal, is attracting the attention of folk who want to do extreme things to raise money for charity. Some people walk the entire 127 miles for charity. Some people paddle the entire length in a canoe or kayak. Some people do the journey on a bike.

Nothing much wrong with that, you might say. But some cyclists are not content with a pleasant pootle from A to B - no, some of them want to do it as quickly as possible. Some talk of setting records for cycling the 127 mile towpath in the shortest time. Some are even talking about setting records for the fastest two-way journey of 254 miles!

Last year, a fellow called Colin Dobson cycled from Leeds to Liverpool and back in 22 hours and 38 minutes! This year he is planning to do it again but is hoping to take less than 20 hours! Read all about it here.

Now, he seems to be a very well-intentioned chap and he raised over £3,000 for a motor-neurone cause. But surely, people would still sponsor him for the epic journey even if he wasn't going so fast? He admits that he hadn't set out to beat any record but that he just sort of got carried away. I have noticed that a lot of cyclists do seem to become highly focused on the act of cycling to the exclusion of what is going on around them.

Think, then, of a typical canal towpath, with its mixture of users. You've got your dog walkers, sometimes with their dog on one of those extending long leads. You might have families out for a stroll with their young children.You will have fishermen with their encampments of equipment, occasionally pulling in their perch poles to do whatever needs to be done. You could have a group of ramblers walking along chatting as they go. A couple of them may be a little hard of hearing. You could also have leisure cyclists wheeling casually along in ones and twos.

Then, into all this varied mixture of users, like a scythe through butter, comes hurtling some well-meaning charity-sponsored cyclist trying to get from Leeds to Liverpool in under eight hours! Imagine the scene as towpath users go scattering in all directions to get out of the way! How many might end up in the cut? What of the elderly rambler who can't hear him approaching from behind? What of the dog on one side of the towpath, attached to its owner on the other side of the towpath by a length of extending lead? What of the unsuspecting boater just hopping off the bow to set a lock? Or the angler in the process of pulling in his pole?

Quite simply, the canal towpath is not the place to attempt cycling speed records. Doing so is going to put other canal users at risk! By all means use the towpath as a route for a gentle cycle ride to raise money for worthy causes, but if you want to make it some sort of speed challenge then - please cyclists - go and do it on the roads instead!

Now, if the idea of one chap on a bike hurtling along the towpath as fast as he can makes you uneasy, then hear this... on March 29th and 30th you will have at least 27 sponsored bikers whizzing through! A group of badminton players from Leeds Metropolitan University are doing a two-way cycle of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal towpath over two days. With three weeks to go they have 27 riders signed up so far. Read more here and here.

Now the badminton players don't say that they are out to set any records, but if they are going to cover the whole 127 miles on each of the two days, I can't see them wanting to hang around.

Don't get me wrong - I am all in favour of people doing sponsored events for charity, but I am worried that the canal towpath is being seen as a convenient traffic-free route where the riders won't need to stop for traffic lights or other such inconveniences. (Do cyclists stop for traffic lights?) I am not convinced that the cyclists will be very aware of or considerate towards the needs of the various users they will encounter.

Just wait until some of these cyclists discover that the Rochdale Canal towpath is being converted into a super-cycleway! Anyone for Halifax to Manchester in an hour?