The Independent London Newspaper


Letters: Cyclists must accept they are third priority when crowds throng canal towpath

Published: 26 July, 2013

• LONDON’S towpaths are not a suitable place for cyclists trying to make up for lost time except on cold, dry days.

Even if it were physically possible to widen the towpath to allow faster flow for cyclists, this would be counter-productive because it would destroy the much-needed tranquillity that the canal can still offer. It would also cause long-term damage to a vital ecological corridor.

When the weather is good, visitors flock to the towpath and this can be frustrating for cyclists because they must accept that they are third priority.

Cyclists must give way to pedestrians and pedestrians must give way to boaters in hazardous situations.

We should all be giving support to all the other projects that Mayor of London’s Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan is expected to champion, in order to make road junctions safer and to provide more permeability for cyclists across London.

There is very little he can change on the Islington stretches of the towpath but he can help to make a huge difference to the surrounding roads, whether they are run by councils or Transport for London.

Mr Gilligan has been reminding people that everybody will benefit from a cycling revolution.

It will reduce strain on the NHS, on public transport and on roads and hopefully one day people will choose to drive only as a last resort.

So in theory he should face no opposition from rational people. But infrastructure changes alone will not resolve the problems; we all need to manage our expectations about what changes can occur along the canal and we need some serious changes in behavioural patterns before cycling wins the acceptance it deserves.

Chair, Friends of
Regent’s Canal

• THE bland and enthusiastic endorsement of the canal towpath by Andrew Gilligan contains an insidious threat to its future use in his stated wish to “improve towpaths for shared use” (Towpaths, July 19).

The towpath in Islington becomes progressively narrower as it approaches Islington tunnel. Residents’ experience of this stretch of the towpath is that a small minority of cyclists already insist on using it as a high-speed route into town.

This is completely at odds with the Canal and River Trust’s depiction of the towpath as a “haven” from city life.

The result is that pedestrians, parents with children on their way to school, people walking dogs, considerate cyclists and other users are being intimidated away from using the towpath by the aggressive attitude of this small band of commuters who insist on cycling at high speed, ringing their bells to demand that others get out of their way and sometimes causing either personal injury from collision or knocking people into the canal or, even worse, knocking children into the canal.

Shared spaces work on the basis that the footpath/cycleway is at least 1.8m wide, giving space for pedestrians and cyclists to pass comfortably.

The towpath in Islington narrows in some places to 600mm.

At this width the towpath cannot be a shared space, it is a contested space. Physically advantaged speeding cyclists need to be slowed down by force to ensure they do not dominate these confined spaces.

The last thing we want on the towpath is for London’s Mayor to promote cramming more commuting cyclists onto a route already unable to sustain the use it gets from aggressive cyclists. What we need is not “quiet routes” that use the towpath, but “alternative routes” that take cyclists-in-a-hurry off the towpath and onto properly engineered safe, alternative routes.

Introducing traffic lights in New North Road at Gainsborough studios would be a good example of what is needed.

What is even more bizarre is that the Canal and River Trust has recently appointed a full-time officer, Rosie Tharp, specially to coordinate with Transport for London and local authorities to develop these “alternative routes” to get speeding cyclists off the towpath.

And yet the Mayor’s commissioner seems to be trying to achieve the opposite outcome by diverting more cyclists onto the towpath. 

Once again the Mayor and his advisors seem to be completely out of touch with what is happening on the ground. 

Labour, St Peter’s ward


Cycling on towpath Camden Town to Cumberland Basin Regents Park

As a cyclist all my life, I am dismayed at the 'explosion' of cycling along the towpath, particularly from Gloucester Road bridge to the Cumberland basis.
The towpath is very narrow in sections and walking along that stretch in the morning is now a very stressful experience with a small but significant minority of cyclists having too little regard for pedestrians.
Approaching at speed from behind without giving any warning is particularly frightening.
Particularly dangerous are cyclists approaching the bridges at speed. Even if they sound their bells, (which not all do), they often fail to take into account blind corners where people walking under the bridges are seriously at risk.
What used to an uplifting experience walking along the canal is now often frightening.

B Addison
NWI resident


Ban all bicycles on the Regents Canal towpath!

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