We, the Accessible Waterways Association (AWA) are delighted that the Canal & River Trust (CRT) is rolling out its new Towpath Code.
Tracey Clarke, Founder Director of AWA says “This is a very welcome new code. We are especially glad to read the first point of the code; ‘Pedestrians have priority’. People with a wide range of disabilities are included in the category of ‘pedestrians’, albeit that some need wheels or other aids to do so. As long as the whole of the code is fully implemented and respected, then it will be a positive move toward making the canal-side environment safer, more enjoyable and more accessible for everybody equally.”
The environment of the canals has changed beyond recognition since they were first built. From industrial highways, they have now become attractive places for enjoyment and mental wellbeing. This change of use, which happened gradually at first, now requires appropriate changes to the network.
It is probably true to say that the usage of canals and towpaths has changed even more since the pandemic. More and more people are appreciating the benefits of being by water. Some want to enjoy the scenery. Others are using the towpaths to get from one place to another. Some are working their boats – maybe mooring up or going through a lock or bridge. Others are exercising their dog(s).
This eclectic mix of towpath users can potentially lead to a conflict of interest, and this is why we need a towpath code. All towpath users need to understand and appreciate each other, and we need to protect the most vulnerable. We all need to be aware that not everyone may react to situations the way that you might expect.
Someone who is mooring up their boat, preparing to set off, or is working their boat through a lock or bridge, will be concentrating on what they are doing more than on who is around them. Similarly, someone with sensory impairments (which are likely not to be obvious), may not be fully aware of everything going on around them. Equally, there are many hidden disabilities/impairments which affect a person’s ability to process information about their surroundings and therefore they may not react as expected.
It is important that people who are enjoying the towpath by using bicycles, and other types of propelled transport, are sensitive to users on foot and/or using mobility aids of any type. Do not assume that they are aware of, or able to react to, your approach. They may not be able to see and/or hear you. So follow the towpath code: Slow down – and be prepared to stop (and even dismount) if necessary. If approaching from behind, it can be very helpful to call out which side you intend to pass.
And please don’t drop litter – or leave food on the towpath or surrounding area. Apart from attracting rats, and the dangers this presents, dogs often show an interest in such delights, which could cause them health issues if they ingest things they shouldn’t. If it happens to be an assistance dog, then the consequences could be even more serious.
This new towpath code is obviously an area that is very key to the core values of AWA. We are also proud to have launched our own guide to Towpath safety. Whilst to many of us CRT is perhaps the most well-known navigation authority, there are several others, and we want to work with them all to agree a uniform standard.