Thames Towpath

So much to talk about after the Cycling Liaison Group [CLG] meeting on Monday 31st January not sure where to begin so I’ll go for “systematic”, working through the agenda in posts to bring clarity rather than confusion, hopefully.

First up, Item 4:

“Thames Towpath Cycle Tracks Order – discussion / feedback from ward councillors on their opinions on promoting shared cycle and pedestrian use on the Thames Towpath.”

I first cycled the towpath when I lived in Hampton and worked in Barnes 25 years ago.  The ride from Chiswick Bridge to Hampton Court and back via Bushy Park is a jewel in the Richmond crown and one reason it’s such a great place to live.  But why is the surface so poor in places yet so good in others?  The Council say it’s a footpath, so can’t be an official cycle route, so isn’t engineered, or maintained, as one. 

The Cycle Tracks Orders appear as Scheme 5 in the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames [LBRuT] Cycling Capital Budget 2010/2011, allocated £5,000.  £1,800 was spent by December 2010, which is the cost of the time the council officer has worked on it.  Apparently the towpath has been talked about for at least 10 years with money set aside to do something.  I’ll ask how much and for what.  

The Scheme intends to:

“Publish Cycle Track(s) Orders for several sections of the Thames Towpath to convert existing Public Rights of Way [PROW] Footpath to cycle tracks with continuing right of way on foot”

The draft LBRuT Local Implementation Plan for the next financial year has £50,000 allocated to “Cycle Tracks Act and improvements to surfacing of Thames Towpath“.  Description of the scheme includes “According to progress may be sufficient time / funding to introduce surfacing improvements.

8 sections are listed between the Borough boundaries towards Putney at one end, Kingston and Hampton Court at the other.  Actually, there are 7 as Teddington Lock to Kingston was dropped after the shared use path was installed.  The 1st 3 sections are continuous, from Putney to Hammersmith Bridge and Chiswick Bridge to Kew Bridge. 

The next sections are between Richmond Bridge and Twickenham on the other side of the river, Richmond Bridge to Ham Street on Surrey and then between Kingston Bridge and Hampton Court Bridge.

So, this is not a vision of a continuous cycle route along the River Thames from Putney to Hampton Court.  No change to the bumpy bits past Kew Gardens round the bend opposite the London Apprentice in Isleworth, or round Ham to Teddington Lock.  Should there be?  You tell me:  I’ll go on riding it, as will many others, especially the fully-suspended and mud-streaked.  But is this consistent with the strategic aim of promoting safe family routes by improving greenway routes, including the Thames Towpath?  You tell me:

It’s not all bad news.  The Draft RCC Priority List identifies the towpath between Hammersmith and Chiswick bridges as something to sort out, even with the engineering challenges of a route routinely flooded at Hammersmith Bridge and through Mortlake. 

And, despite everything, I didn’t sense any intention on the part of people at the meeting on Monday to affirm footpath status by putting up no cycling signs and enforcing them, I think recognising this would be as expensive and even more problematic than the cycle track orders.  What I did hear were the same complaints as the Tamsin trail in Richmond Park, used as the example of what happens on shared paths: speeding cyclists frightening pedestrians, running over young children, dogs and elderly ladies.

So, what now?  The Chair put it over to the next meeting of the CLG in April while all the relevant councillors are contacted for their view.  In the meantime I’ll ask the cycling officers some more questions, hopefully some of which will be yours.  Watch this space.