Ben - 9's Waterways

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Oh, and another ting...

Up north we have so far been spared the worst excesses of towpath cycling. Yes, I know that there have been a few cases of cyclists trying to ride the whole Leeds and Liverpool Canal in record time. And there have been occasional unfortunate incidents involving over-keen cyclists, including one I heard of recently where a cyclist travelling at speed hit a rut on the towpath and ended up taking a dive into the Upper Peak Forest Canal at New Mills. I wasn't laughing just then, honestly!

Apparently one of the liveliest places for towpath interaction in the Regents Canal in London, which is a popular commuting route for both walkers and cyclists anxious to avoid the busy city streets. However, some of these cyclists seem to regard towpaths as dedicated cycle lanes and show little interest in slowing down to pass other users, which has resulted in a number of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians and a larger number of heated verbal altercations.

Luckily, things aren't quite that bad up here at the moment but, with the Rochdale Canal's towing path currently being transformed into what seems like a high-speed cycle track, who knows what the future might bring?

Surprising news comes this week that Debrett's, the authority on matters of etiquette, have issued a "Code of Conduct" offering hints for "harmonious towpath usage". The code states that "pedestrians have priority" which may come as news to some cyclists. The advice to cyclists is to give "two tings" on the bell to warn of their approach and to pass carefully and slowly. Then the spoilsports tell cyclists that they should "never cycle too quickly".

This all sounds wonderful for walkers, until you read that walkers should be listening out for the ting-tinging so as to "allow cyclists to pass wherever possible". In return, the jolly cyclists are expected to smile and say thank you when other users have moved out of their way.

In reality there are two problems with this idyllic scenario. Firstly the majority of cycles these days don't appear to be equipped with a bell. This creates a bit of a flaw in the ting-ting twaddle. Secondly there are some cyclists who apparently regard ringing a bell as an alternative to slowing down. They ting their bells or, if they haven't got one, simply shout "coming through!" and ride straight at the pedestrians who have little alternative but to dive out of the way.

As another commentator has said of this elsewhere: "all towpath users are equal, but some are more equal than others!" Pedestrians may have priority on paper but they know what's best for them when a lump of metal is hurtling towards them at speed!

But what about old buffers like me who are hard of hearing? How are we supposed to know that someone is merrily ting-tinging away as they fast approach us from behind? Some cyclists don't seem to have considered the possibility that some walkers may not be able to hear them.

Other parts of this code from Debrett's suggest that we shouldn't drop litter and that we should clean up after emptying our dogs. Gosh! Whoever would have thought of that?

It would appear that BW has commissioned Debretts to produce this advice, yet it is hard to see what it includes that has not already been said by BW. Was this really a sensible use of BW's fast-diminishing financial resources? Are people more likely to take notice of advice if it comes from Debrett's rather than BW?

If that's what they ting, then perhaps BW have got another ting coming.