Give us your thoughts on ‘quick win’ schemes for cyclists

Cheap Street, Newbury - cyclists exempt from banned right turn

Often, little changes can make a big difference for cyclists – for example, exempting them from a banned right turn, or providing a contra-flow in a one-way street.  These schemes can create useful short-cuts and help to make cycling safer and more attractive for local journeys.

West Berkshire Council has told us that there is money available in this year’s budget for small schemes like these and has asked us for suggestions. Ideas so far include:

  1. In Newbury, allow cyclists to turn right into Cheap Street from Market Street.  This would help cyclists travelling from West Fields to Sainsbury’s and Hambridge Road.
  2. Formally designate Newbury Town Centre as a ‘Pedestrian and Cycle Zone’. Although cycling is already allowed in Bartholomew Street and Northbrook Street, existing signs are confusing.
  3. Where possible, exempt cyclists from one-way restrictions on roads in and around Newbury town centre.
  4. Put direction arrows in each lane on the St John’s Road approach to the Burger King roundabout in Newbury. This would reinforce that the middle lane is for straight ahead movements only. Increasingly, motorists are turning left from the middle lane, which goes against Rule 186 of the Highway Code. This results in cyclists being cut up when they are travelling from St Johns Road to Greenham Road.

If you can think of a small change that would make a big difference to your journey, then please let us know. We can’t promise that they will all see the light of day, since each scheme will be subject to a safety audit and appropriate consultation, but we’re happy to pass on ideas for consideration.

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Canal and River Trust seeks your views on towpath use and possible traffic calming

Towpath sign

Our canal towpath network represents an incredible recreational resource that is enjoyed by millions of visitors every year. The Kennet and Avon is an excellent case in point, since it is used by cyclists, walkers, runners, boaters, anglers, canoeists, and even the odd horse pulling craft along the water.

Having so many different activities in close proximity means that people must share the space considerately if they are going to get along. Unfortunately, there is always the odd inconsiderate person who upsets the delicate balance of give and take, and recently there have been reports of runners and cyclists charging along canal towpaths at top speed in order to set the best link times on Strava.

The Canal and River Trust has tried to respond to the problem by creating the Towpath Code, which clearly states that cyclists should slow down and give way to pedestrians and other waterway users. This has been promoted through the ‘Share the Space, Drop Your Pace’ campaign.

However, this has not been sufficient to completely eradicate the problem and in some places the Trust has carried out trails of speed reducing features such as speed bumps and chicanes in an effort to make the code self-enforcing. Unfortunately, these have the potential to cause additional problems, particularly for wheelchair and pushchair users. They also create hazards for users who may not be expecting them, particularly when using towpaths at night.

In order to get a better understanding of the extent of the problem and to identify possible solutions, the Trust has decided to carry out a survey of towpath users.  This asks:

  • how you currently use the towpath network
  • if you have had any negative experiences whilst using the network (e.g. crashes, near misses, or confrontations)
  • whether or not you use technology to track your speed when using towpaths
  • your impressions of how fast people generally travel on towpaths
  • your thoughts on chicanes, barriers and any other potential speed reducing features

The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete and by giving your views, you will be entered into a prize draw to win one of three £50 Wiggle vouchers. The consultation runs until 20 January.

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Sharing Towpaths Consultation

Kennet and Avon TowpathCanal towpaths represent a historic and much valued resource. Although originally built for horses, they now have to meet the needs of a disparate group of users including walkers, cyclists, anglers, boat owners, and canoeists. This means that towpaths can become congested in popular locations, such as on the Kennet and Avon Canal in Newbury.

In March, the Canal and River Trust consulted on their ‘Sharing Towpaths’ project. This sets out the Trust’s proposed approach to towpath management and includes a set of principles and actions, together with a ‘Towpath Code’. The Code encourages considerate usage of towpaths by all users, giving pedestrians priority. Cyclists are encouraged to drop their pace, dismount where required and use common sense in busy or restricted areas.

A total of 2,148 people completed the online survey, supplemented by email responses and three workshops with stakeholders, local authorities, and other partners. The Trust has now published the consultation results on their website.

The survey results showed that leisure uses of towpaths predominate, including walking for leisure, cycling for leisure and boating. However, there is evidence that towpaths are also being used by people for everyday journeys (e.g. commuting).

A common theme throughout respondents’ feedback was the need for better control over ‘speeding’ cyclists. Whilst respondents saw the ‘Towpath Code’ as being a starting point to reduce this problem, further suggestions included:

  • Cycling permits (tried before and found to be unenforceable)
  • Apply a speed limit (again, unenforceable)
  • Erect barriers and chicanes to slow cyclists (this would impact upon other users)
  • The Trust should develop relationships with cycling clubs (great, but most cyclists are not members of clubs)
  • The Trust should appoint a cycling liaison officer
  • Widening the towpath to encourage greater use by cyclists (unfortunately this was the view of a small, but vociferous minority)

There were strong views in relation to towpaths forming part of sustainable transport routes. A majority believed that the principles should make it clear that whilst cycling is permitted, the towpath should not be classed as utilitarian cycling route. Conversely, a minority thought there should be a coordinated policy to establish towpaths as part of national traffic-free network for walkers and cyclists, especially around towns and cities, and that this should form part of the principles.

Less than 10% of respondents suggested that improved maintenance could encourage sharing. This figure is surprisingly low, since in many places grass has encroached to make the towpath a narrow strip (see photo above), while overhanging vegetation often makes it difficult for users to pass without one stopping and stepping aside.

Most of the comments on infrastructure related to stopping high-speed cyclists (e.g. speed bumps at bridges), but a minority were also to facilitate use by those who wanted to travel faster (e.g. widening to 4m).

We will wait to see how the results of the consultation influence the ‘Sharing Towpaths’ document. The current version is reasonably well balanced, recognising the needs of all users. It would be a shame if there was a hardening of attitudes towards cyclists, as towpaths are a valued cycling resource, catering predominantly for leisure trips, but also for utility trips within urban areas. We were pleased to see that the draft document includes commitments to improve towpaths where needed and to reclaim towpath width for safer shared use where practical and appropriate.

Recent developments in Newbury means that we have our doubts about the likely impact of a Towpath Code. As one respondent put it: “Whoever is going to read the code and suddenly awaken to the fact that they should be considerate and share the space because the code says so?”

Whatever the outcome, we will be happy to work with the Canal and River Trust and offer what help we can to ensure that the Kennet and Avon towpath meets the needs of local cyclists and other users.

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Consultation on Newbury 2026 – Vision for Newbury Town Centre

West Berkshire Council is consulting on its draft refresh of its vision for the future of Newbury Town Centre. This makes a number of references to cycling, including:

“Review walking and cycling routes into and within the town centre and making improvements where necessary such as filling in missing links.

1. Seek an appropriate location for a secure and sheltered cycle parking hub (with shower facilities) within Newbury Town Centre

2. Producing downloadable apps for easy cycle routes between the town and existing and new residential area such as Sandleford Park.

3. Securing improvements to the National Cycle Network Route 4 (NCN4) which runs along the canal towpath as a key route for cycling and walking.”

The consultation runs until 25 October 2013. Spokes will be making a formal response on the cycling elements and any other relevant sections. If you have any thoughts, then please get in touch.

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