IWA Issues New Advice on Towpath Cycling

IWA Issues New Advice on Towpath Cycling

16 January 2014

IWA has issued new advice on towpath cycling in response to the increase in demand for new or continuing use of canal and river towpaths as cycle routes.

IWA acknowledges the wider benefits of encouraging the population to cycle for recreational and transport purposes. A variety of users cycle on the towpath as commuters, with friends and family or in following the long established practice of cycling as the boaters’ choice of transportation. The benefits of cycling on towpaths in particular include:

  • Cycling on towpaths as a form of transport plays an important role in meeting the requirements (the need for cycle routes away from road traffic) of the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997.
  • Cycling recreationally on towpaths encourages a wider variety of users to enjoy the waterways as well as helping to promote healthy living.
  • The use of bicycles whilst boating, to set and close locks, is advantageous as it can minimise the use of water and reduce delays at lock flights, as well as sometimes being the most practical way in which to get help in an emergency.

Additionally, IWA welcomes the benefits of funding that can be available to navigation authorities for improving towpaths for cycling; funding that would not be available for general towpath improvements. Such improvements benefit all users and not just cyclists, but should be carefully monitored so as not to have adverse side effects such as increased cycling speeds.

Despite these benefits there is a need to positively manage cycling on the towpaths. Individuals often cycle on the towpath as an alternative to using the road, believing the towpath to be the safer option. Whilst in some instances this is the case, there are many hazards on the towpath that cyclists are often not, but should be, aware of.

Included in the cycling advice issued by IWA is a cycling code to help make cyclists more aware of the potential hazards along a towpath. IWA’s Cycling Code aims to promote good practice amongst cyclists on the towpath and to raise awareness and improve the safety of both cyclists and other towpath users. Key points of IWA’s Cycling Code include:

  • Slow down when approaching anglers, towpath walkers and other towpath users.
  • Be prepared to dismount when local signs or common sense indicates that you should.
  • Watch out for hazards on the towpath such as ropes from boats, mooring stakes and bollards. Allow anglers time to move their tackle before you try to pass.
  • Have a bell or horn fitted to your cycle and use it.  
  • Be friendly to other waterways users. The towpaths are there for everyone to enjoy.

The full IWA Cycling Code can be viewed in the IWA Briefing Note – Cycling on Towpaths.

IWA supports cycling on towpaths when properly managed. However, not all towpaths or sections of towpath are suitable for cycling on as they may be too narrow, have restricted views ahead, have surfaces that are susceptible to deterioration or feature a large number of hazards. Neither should towpaths be used for cycling competitions. However, there is no reason why individuals, families and small groups should not enjoy a leisurely commute or recreational bike ride along a suitable towpath as long as they are considerate in their use of the resource.

Additional advice for cyclists can be found on IWA's website.

More detailed guidance can be found in IWA’s Policy on Towpaths, one of a series of IWA Policy documents that can be found on IWA’s website.

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