The Independent London Newspaper


Speeding cyclists on Regent’s Canal towpath: ‘Someone will end up in canal’

Campaigners Ian Shacklock and Gillian Comins

Alternative route suggested amid calls for action over ‘harassment’ of walkers and joggers

Published: 10th June, 2011

LEADING figures from two of Islington’s most influential campaigning groups intervened on the side of walkers this week in the row over towpath cycling.

Gillian Comins, an Angel Association committee member, and Ian Shacklock, chairman of the Friends of Regent’s Canal, called on British Waterways to take action before someone “ends up in the canal”.

Ms Comins, 78, said she now avoids walking along the towpath close to her home at City Road Basin at commuter times for fear of being hit by a speeding cyclist.

She added: “Some cyclists are not only a danger to walkers but a danger to themselves. I met a young woman cyclist who injured her leg quite badly after colliding with a chap on a bike. The chap just said ‘Are you ok?’ and went on his way.”

Ms Comins works with police handing out British Waterways “two tings” campaign leaflets urging cyclists to ring their bell twice,  slow down and give consideration to walkers.

At the same time she advises walkers to keep to the inside of the towpath and allow cyclists space to get by.

Ms Comins added: “We’ve had cyclists refuse to stop, even for the police, to receive a leaflet. They just ride on.”

Mr Shacklock, whose organisation meets regularly at the Canal Museum in King’s Cross, described how a cyclist collided with a boat owner near Danbury Street Bridge.

“The boat owner was slightly grazed but extremely shaken up,” said Mr Shacklock, himself a cyclist. “Although the cyclist was in the wrong there is a ramp at Danbury Bridge which allows cyclists to pick up speed and there are too many blind spots along the towpath.”

Mr Shacklock, who has regular meetings with British Waterways, is calling for measures which will slow cyclists down, including “kissing gates” and a safe road route diverting them away from the towpath.

He added: “Why should walkers continually have to look over their shoulder and worry about being knocked down when they take a stroll along the towpath?”

Ms Comins, who has lived in the area for 50 years, said the last time she felt safe walking on the towpath at any time of day was about ten years ago. “In those days it was mostly children or leisure cyclists who used the towpath rather than those coming and going to work,” she said.

“It’s not just walkers who are harassed. The joggers get fed up with continually having to move out of the way.”



Dangerous menace

Couldn't agree more. I've lived overlooking the canal for 4 years and have never seen a policeman down there, but I have seen plenty of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians. I've even heard reports of a dog being run over and killed on the towpath. The problem is, the cyclists don't realise or don't care that local people and tourists also use the towpath; and their needs are very different. I also read that British Waterways say that complaints are down, but the only place to complain on their website is on a customer services page. Hardly appropriate for complaints about members of the public. Also, I doubt most people know who or where to complain to in the first place. It's not obvious... I've never complained, but I have seen dozens of incidents that I would like to have reported.

The cyclists are using the towpath to get to where they are going (work) as fast as possible, and to avoid the danger of traffic. The walkers are using it for a slow wander and aren't thinking that they are in danger because they aren't expecting to be on a commuter's race track; and the cyclists often don't use their bells. As a consequence I've seen walkers change direction unexpectedly on the towpath and be hit by a cyclist that hadn't warned of their presence.

I must admit nearly every single walker has been very gracious about it when hit, but I have rarely seen a cyclist apologise and never seen one give their details, they mainly just ride off, shockingly some don't even say a word!

A police presence, CCTV cameras and a will to enforce the law would help: the collisions would be caught on camera and wouldn't be a matter of "he said - she said". The evidence could be used in prosecutions for dangerous cycling or assault cases. If just a few cyclists were prosecuted the the rest would hear about it and might change their ways. If not, they can face prosecution for riding dangerously as well. I cycle on the towpath too, but when I pass people I slow down, ring my bell twice, say thank you and smile. Sometimes I even stop and have a chat. It's actually not that hard to do -apart from the last couple. Apparently it is too much to ask for most Londoners to smile at each other and talk these days.

towpath cyclists

I fully endorse the article written by Ms Comins. There are rules that most cyclists totally disregard (speed, pedestrian priority etc). As simple as that. In addition, any kind of suggestion to slow down is often met with harassment. No british waterways police is to be seen at any time of the day: my flat overlooks the canal and I haven't seen a policeman on the towpath in the morning rush hour in over a year.


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