Towpath Gates Opened Following Complaint by Push Bikes

Towpath Gate

On finding the tow path gates locked on the Stratford Canal (within the city boundary), long-time Push Bikes activist John Bennett contacted the Canals and Rivers Trust (CRT). He asked them to unlock the gates permanently as agreed with them years ago, and reminded them that the surfacing of the paths was funded by the Cycling City fund. When he only received a non-committal response, he made a formal complaint, and as a result the gates were opened.

In their response, the CRT stated that they are caught between the need for unobstructed cycling and members of the public asking for them to be closed to prevent abuse of the towpath by motorcyclists. However, there is much, and very dangerous, anti-social activity on the carriageway, but motorists are not expected to get out of theirs cars to open and close gates. Moreover, at one meeting with the CRT Push Bikes was told that CRT always knows where it genuinely has a problem with abuse by motorcyclists, because they find the gates have been taken apart with an angle grinder. There is also a means of addressing the problem that was developed by Dutch engineers (of course). This technique makes use of a series of ramps (below) that target the suspension on motorbikes. Whilst cycles with no suspension and relatively low speeds are completely unaffected, motorcyclists who don't slow right down will be subjected to violent oscillation that ultimately will result in an enforced dismount. Gates just discourage use by both legitimate users and abusers, but abusers are discouraged if there are lots of legitimate users.

The CRT also stated that RADAR keys to open the gates are widely available and not expensive, but Push Bikes members have found the locks are often broken or vandalized. Even when the locks are working, the gates make cycling slower and less convenient, which is the exact opposite of what is required if we are to reduce motor vehicle usage by enabling and encouraging active travel. Since the keys are also available to motorcyclists, but they resort to angle grinders, one can only conclude that they want the deterrent removed rather than temporarily defeated. Therefore having Dutch speed calming ramps would be a better deterrent, as they cannot be defeated with an angle grinder. They wont stop abusers completely (neither do gates), but they will make life miserable for them (and more permanently than gates).

That all said, Push Bikes questions how big a problem is use by motorcyclists. Personally, in decades of cycling along the towpaths, I've encountered one quad bike and one mini-moto. The rider of the former looked absolutely terrified (no doubt due to having to ride with two wheels just millimetres from the drop into the water), whilst the rider of the latter was trying to repair it (good luck with that). Other Push Bikes members report similar low levels of abuse.

But in the meantime, until we learn to stop wringing our hands and ignoring proven ideas from abroad, whenever you find the gates locked, please do contact the Canals and Rivers Trust, and if that doesn't have the desired effect, raise a complaint. Also, please let us know. This is particularly important if you have a disability and a locked towpath gate makes it difficult or impossible to continue your journey, because then it becomes a matter of equality. Always point out that there is a proven alternative technique for discouraging abuse that does not block legitimate users.


Dutch Speed Ramps

Dutch speed ramps
Speed ramps on a cycle route in the Netherlands.