In 2011, Sustrans, the council, Don Foster MP, and the Canal & River Trust came together and agreed that the state of the Kennet and Avon Towpath between Sydney Gardens and Bathampton was in such a poor state that funding would be found to upgrade the towpath to a 4 season surface that would last for 15+years.
£135k was found in the council budget and Sustrans had reserved £315k of their core funds for the project. Then in 2012, the UK experienced extreme flooding and the government cut Sustrans core funding to support the development of flood defences.
In 2014 the CRT wrote a planning objection letter to the redevelopment of the Warminster Road MOD site demanding £315k towards maintenance of the towpath as the new bridge across to the towpath would increase footfall on an already busy towpath that was suffering from severe erosion.
In January 2015, the council bid and won Cycle City Ambition Grant money to finally do the repair under the CRT’s new “Better Towpaths for Everyone” policy. A national policy to bring ALL 2000 miles of towpaths up to a better standard through a three pronged approach:
- Better infrastructure :- Widening all towpaths (where necessary) and upgrading to 4 season surfaces usable all year round.
- Better signage :- Clear and prominent shared use signs to be installed across the country where there are concerns raised by local users.
- Better behaviour :- A range of initiatives to encourage considerate use of towpaths. These include the CRT’s “Share the space, drop your pace” campaign and the recently developed towpath code of conduct.
There are some people in the community that do not want this repair to go ahead and have started a shock campaign around the idea that the repair will allow cyclists to cycle even faster along the towpath using a rather horrible picture from an inexcusable hit and run incident on a towpath up on the Wigan canal. They want this upgrade stopped at all costs. They like it the way it is as it slowly becomes unusable to all but the most determined users over years to come.
In April 2013, the Two Tunnels opened and the number of people using the towpath shot through the roof. The phenomenal success of the TT as a world famous cycle/walking route has contributed massively to the further erosion of the towpath and significantly increased the amount of people on the towpath. The map on the Visit Bath tourist information site, the available maps from Sustrans, and even the Somerset Coal Company all promote the 13 mile Two Tunnels circuit as a fantastic cycling and walking route.
It is telling that in a recent traffic survey on the towpath on a Wednesday between 7am and 7pm, around 500ish people walking and 600ish people cycling were counted. It is very much promoted as something to do if you are coming to Bath but nobody promotes safe sharing and being considerate.
If I want to ride on the towpath, I just grab a suitable bike that can handle the poor state and ride at whatever speed I want. What I choose to do is use my bell a lot, slow down when passing walkers, wish them a good day as I pass, and just be a considerate user.
If I’m on a bike that does not handle the path surface well, then usually there is one 30cm wide “desire line” that most bikes want to take as it’s the “smoothest”, avoids puddles (which may contain unseen nasty surprises) and stops me getting wet. You then get very poor interactions with cyclists passing too close or splashing people as they ride by.
Repairing the path and making the full 2.5m width usable all year round will enable people to pass and interact with each other better. It will let people wheel pushchairs and wheelchairs on it comfortably. It will make it accessible to ALL.
What repairing won’t do is stop bad users, although it should lessen their impact. This is where the shared use signage along the route will help. This is where ensuring all places that promote the towpath as part of a route map also promote the towpath code of conduct.
This all takes money. A LOT OF MONEY. £675k that must be spent this year or handed back to central government next March.
This is a one off opportunity to bring this section of the towpath and the connection to Larkhall up to an all year round usable space. The council is looking for savings of £38M from its budget this year and expect similar squeezes on future budgets. Don’t expect any money to do anything on the towpath for at least 8+ years.
So please get involved with the consultation and attend the public exhibitions:
- Bathampton Village Hall – Friday 28th August from 2.00pm till 8.00pm
- Oriel Hall, Larkhall – Saturday 29th August from 11.00am till 5.00pm
Go as a cyclist, as a walker, as a boater, as a considerate user and suggest improvements. If you had £675k to spend on the towpath and connection to Larkhall, how could you make it better? How could you tweak it. Try and see through those people spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). If you get the chance, ride the towpath before attending an exhibition.
I will be going and suggesting:
- Lighting on the ramp connection to Larkhall.
- Reestablishment of the ancient hedgerow on the ramp that has been left to grow into young trees to reduce leaf fall on the ramp and make it less dark. As suggested by the gardener of the plots on the ramp at the Larkhall meeting.
- Beckford Road end should ensure good surface connecting to footpath to Bathwick St Mary’s school.
- Good sloped surface connection to Hampton Row Footbridge.
- The footpath from Grosvenor Bridge up to towpath (not the ramp) to also be made 4 season.
- The ramp to Hampton Row footbridge path to be made 4 season.
- The Meadow Lane Canal Bridge to have a bypass to encourage cyclists to not use the underpass.
- Investigate access to towpath from the rear of the George Pub car park.
Finally, let’s be honest. Shared space sucks. Using CCAG money to improve a towpath I believe is wrong. It’s a shared leisure space and it usually is an indirect and slow route to get from A to B. CCAG money should be used to develop on-road cycle tracks (physically protected cycle lanes).
In BaNES about 40,000 people ride a bike at least once per month. That’s 1 in 5 people. We cannot keep trying to push people onto shared paths. We cannot keep going to PACT meetings dominated by people demanding to know what the police are doing about pavement cycling.
YOU need to ask your councillors to ensure their council officers are taking cycling seriously and are creating safe child friendly on-road cycle tracks. The simplest thing is to ask your councillor to have the council use the Welsh Active Travel Cycling and Walking audit tools when delivering a scheme. Get the officers thinking about cycling. Get them recognising that they are pushing people onto over-used shared paths. That they are forcing people to cycle illegally on pavements because people do not want to share space with HGVs and they definitely do not want to have children cycling with HGVs. Email them now and ask them to have a cycling and walking audit done as part of any new scheme in the pipeline.