Towpaths, canals and rivers

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Towpath and riversides make attractive cycling routes
Headline Messages: 
  • Opening up towpaths and riverside paths for cycling enhance the network of motor traffic-free routes for commuting, recreational and other purposes.
  • Some walkers and other users are concerned about sharing paths with cyclists, but codes of conduct on responsible cycling, together with good design, help promote harmony.
Key facts: 
  • In England and Wales, there is no general statutory right of way over towpaths along navigable rivers or canals, but a number are public bridleways or footpaths, and others have local rights. In Scotland, cyclists have access to rivers, lochs and reservoirs, provided they respect the Outdoor Access Code
  • Cycling is, in any case, largely welcomed alongside the canals and rivers managed by the Canal and River Trust (England and Wales) and by Scottish Canals.
  • 50% of the British population lives within 5 miles of a towpath or river.
  • The Canal and River Trust cares for around 2,000 miles of waterways in England & Wales.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • CTC welcomes the decision by the Canal and River Trust to allow considerate cyclists to ride along most of the length of its towpaths. These routes are a valuable motor traffic-free facility both for utility and recreational cycling, and national and local government should view them as an important part of the strategic transport network.
  • Codes of conduct help promote courtesy and understanding between users.
  • There is little evidence to support the view that cycling on towpaths creates excessive hazards to walkers or to cyclists themselves.
  • All towpaths should remain open to cyclists along their entire length, unless there are insuperable safety issues that can only be avoided with restrictions.
  • There should be no need to apply for a permit or be charged for cycling along a towpath. CTC therefore strongly welcomes the Trust’s decision to allow cyclists to use its towpaths without permits.
  • To help facilitate cycling, towpaths and river paths should have good surfacing and drainage.
  • There is little evidence to support the view that cycling is any more damaging to towpaths or river paths than walking.
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
February 2015
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