West Berkshire Cycle Forum (January 2018)

West Berkshire Council arranged a special meeting of the Cycle Forum to discuss the situation with the Kennet and Avon towpath.  We were delighted to be joined by Mark Evans from the Canal and River Trust and Peter Challis of Sustrans. We highlighted what a valued resource the towpath is and how well-used it is by cyclists, not just for leisure trips, but also to get to places, particularly within Newbury. However, the current condition of the towpath has deteriorated to such an extent in places that it is now hazardous for cyclists.

Mark Evans acknowledged the problems and admitted that the focus until now had largely been on maintaining the canal for boaters. He also recognised that wash from passing boats was causing erosion and that mooring pegs could cause splits in the bank, leading to localised issues. All parties recognised the scale of the problems facing the towpath, which are further complicated by environmental constraints, including the desire to maintain the historic feel of the canal and protect endangered wildlife that lives in the canal banks, such as water voles.

The good news is that the Trust is in the process of restructuring and will be placing a much greater emphasis on promotion of health and well-being in future. As a consequence, there will be a much greater focus on the towpath and its users.

There was some discussion about what standard we would like to achieve for the towpath, including widths and surfacing materials.  The original Sustrans construction was a crushed limestone surface, but it was recognised that this does not hold up well and needs regular maintenance. Alternatives are available, such as resin-bound surfacing, which can last up to 25 years, but this is much more expensive. What quickly became clear is that it will cost millions of pounds to achieve the ideal facility and that some degree of prioritisation will be required.

Key actions from the meeting were:

  • To complete the work on the local audit including the eastern section from Woolhampton to Calcot
  • Identify safety-critical points where there is a particular risk due to holes/bank erosion
  • Identify the top three priority sections where the path surface should be upgraded

Another meeting has been arranged for 20 February in order to maintain momentum.

The minutes for the January meeting of the Cycle Forum (and minutes of previous meetings) can be found on the About Us section of the Spokes website.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

West Berks Cycle Forum (December 2017)

The main topic of discussion was the Kennet & Avon towpath, particularly the sections west of Newbury and east of Colthrop, which Spokes has flagged as being in need of complete reconstruction in order to make them safe for cyclists. Mark Evans had been invited from the Canal and River Trust, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it due to an emergency call-out. However, Cllr Steve Ardagh-Walter managed to set up a separate meeting with him on 9 January. In the meantime, Spokes members will carry out an audit of the canal towpath to document the issues in more detail. We will be looking to get a commitment to add these sections to their maintenance programme as soon as possible and also to change their maintenance inspections to better take account of the needs of cyclists. We realise that funding may be an issue, so we are already looking at different options.

We were delighted to be told that following the recent public consultation, West Berks Councillors has agreed to progress the first section of National Cycle Network Route 422 in Newbury between Faraday Road and the Wyevale roundabout. This will see on and off-road provision for cyclists with new sections of route as well as improvements to existing sections.

Spokes gave a presentation on cycle wayfinding based on the results of an audit of cycle routes between Newbury town centre and the top end of Faraday Road. This had identified numerous issues, including a lack of consistency between on-street signs, on-line cycling journey planners, and the printed version of the Council’s cycle map. We also found that cycling information was completely missing from the finger-posts and monolith maps in the town centre, with several conflicting or missing signs adding to the confusion. Some of the issues have arisen as a result of individual schemes being introduced over a number of years with no holistic review of signage. Fortunately, many of these issues can be picked up as part of the NCN 422 scheme.

The minutes for the December meeting of the Cycle Forum (and minutes of previous meetings) can be found on the About Us section of the Spokes website.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Campaign to Maintain Kennet & Avon Towpath

Here at Spokes, we’ve become increasingly concerned about the sustained lack of maintenance of the Kennet and Avon Towpath, particularly the rural stretches out towards Marsh Benham and to the east of Colthrop. Despite forming part of National Cycle Network Route 4, the path has been left to degrade to such an extent that we now consider it to be inherently unsafe.

When the path was originally constructed it was 1.5 – 2m wide for most of its length, even in the more rural areas. However, the grass has encroached to such an extent that it is now less than 0.3m wide in places, with a pronounced lip on either side. This makes it virtually unusable by anyone on a bike, since it is very easy for a wheel to catch the lip and unseat the rider. We have spoken to several people who indicated that they or a member of their party had fallen off on these sections.

The path also suffers from poor drainage. Given that it is nothing more than a rut in the grassy bank, it is not surprising that it fills with water whenever it rains. This conceals the true extent of the hazard and leaves a muddy, slippery mess as it dries, which makes it even more difficult to navigate on a bike. What’s more, there are several sections where large notches have been eroded in the bank and cut into the path.  If you are not looking for them, then it would be very easy to ride into one and fall straight into the canal.

This is completely unacceptable. If this was a road, it would not be allowed to fall into such disrepair. Cyclists should expect similar maintenance standards of maintenance to be applied to ensure their safety on these sections of the National Cycle Network, which is popular with leisure cyclists and families.

We are aware that developer contributions have just been made available from the Newbury Racecourse development to improve the section of the towpath between Newbury and Thatcham, which is very welcome and we look forward to these sections being repaired and upgraded.  However, this should not be allowed to distract from maintenance liabilities on the other sections of route.

We appreciate that funding and resources may be tight, but the Canal and River Trust still have a duty of care to the users of their towpath, including cyclists. We have contacted the Waterway Manager for the Kennet & Avon to highlight the problem and to ask that they take urgent action. We have also suggested that they could pool resources with Sustrans and West Berkshire Council. The Council has been very responsive with Cllr Ardagh-Walter inviting the Waterway Manager to the next meeting of the Cycle Forum in December and suggesting that we could undertake a more detailed audit of the route to help the Trust.

If you would like to add your voice to the campaign, we would suggest that you contact the Canal & River Trust directly by emailing: enquiries.kennetavon@canalrivertrust.org.uk

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail