Alasdair Smart: Paths for all walkers and cyclists

Craiglockhart Primary pupils join the campaign. Picture: Scott Louden
Craiglockhart Primary pupils join the campaign. Picture: Scott Louden
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Combining safe inner-city travel with the fantastic environment of the waterway, the towpaths of the Union Canal are more popular than ever and increasing numbers of walkers, cyclists and runners taking to the routes.

However, with a threefold increase in the amount of people using the routes in recent years, everyone – whether they take to the paths by boot or bike – has to be considerate of other users and share the space.

To that end, Scottish Canals has launched the first in a series of new campaigns encouraging considerate use of the towpaths. We took to the tarmac at Harrison Park last week with the support of Edinburgh City Council, sustainable transport charity Sustrans, Spokes and pupils from the canalside Craiglockhart Primary, urging cyclists to share the space and drop their pace.

The vast majority of cyclists are mindful of the needs of other users and follow safety guidelines; we just want to remind everyone that the towpaths are a shared space and there to be enjoyed by everyone.

As pet owners and families also use the paths, they are not the place for cyclists to try and emulate Sir Chris Hoy and set speed records. Likewise, some sections of the canal – such as aqueducts and bridges – are very narrow and it’s safer if cyclists dismount before crossing. Of course, it’s a two-way street and pedestrians have to play their part and be aware of their surroundings and cyclists. A polite “thank you” from both parties also doesn’t go amiss.

So far, the reception of the campaign has been very positive and we’ve received the support of everyone from local councillors to cycling groups. This isn’t about singling out cyclists; everyone has a responsibility to use the paths safely and considerately, and that’s something we’ll be reminding all towpath users of in the coming months.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to highlight the Towpath Code of Conduct, which was launched last year, as it sets out guidelines and safety tips for everyone from boaters and anglers to walkers and pet owners.

We worked in partnership with the city council, Sustrans, Spokes and Living Streets Scotland to create the code and more than 10,000 copies have already been distributed. A digital version of the code is available through the Scottish Canals website.

The Union Canal, like the rest of Scotland’s waterways, is in the midst of a renaissance and is playing an increasingly vital role in the city of Edinburgh. As the canal corridor grows increasingly vibrant, it’s important to manage its popularity in order to safeguard the rich heritage of the Union for many years to come. To that end, we’re always looking for new ways to improve the experience – and safety – of everyone who uses it.

New LED solar-powered lights have just been installed by the city council and Scottish Canals on the towpaths at Watson Crescent, Kingsknowe and the Calders, and we’re upgrading considerable stretches of the paths to a new all-weather surface.

Of course, we can always do more, but whether you’re travelling to work or just pedalling for pleasure, the towpaths offer a fantastic environment. A little consideration and common sense allows everyone to enjoy them.

Alasdair Smart is Scottish Canals’ waterway manager for the lowland canals