Boaters tell C&RT to think again on tunnel plan

March 2017 - Peter Underwood has been looking at boaters' response to C&RT plans to narrow a Birmingham canal tunnel to make more space on the towpath.

There has been an overwhelming rejection by boaters of plans to narrow the canal through Birmingham's Edgbaston tunnel in order to widen the towpath for cyclists and pedestrians.

Almost nine out of ten responding to an online poll on The Floater's website said it was a bad idea despite it getting support from Canal & River Trust Managers and Birmingham City Council.

C&RT are apparently keen to collaborate with the local council to narrow the canal tunnel from two-way to one-way working – all so they can widen a towpath used by high speed commuting cyclists.

Midlands Waterways Manager Ian Lane has discussed a proposal to widen the one hundred metres of towpath through Edgbaston tunnel on the Worcester and Birmingham canal to 'accommodate the increase in towpath usage over recent years'.

It links Birmingham University campus with the city centre and has long had a reputation for high-speed commuting cyclists with little time for pedestrians who refuse even to slow down when passing through the Edgbaston Tunnel.

Ian Lane said: “This has been a long term ambition of Birmingham City Council who are looking to fund these works on the back of the Cycle Revolution. This would obviously mean the tunnel would go from two way traffic to single lane.

“We have done lots of studies over the recent months to see if this does make sense and our studies strongly show that it is the right thing to do and something the Trust would now support.”

C&RT Navigation Users Group member Sue Cawson is not a fan of the council's plans: She has said: “I don't believe it is the right decision to widen the towpath.

“Unfortunately most of the issues are caused by the cyclists and their extremely aggressive behaviour, I am not convinced that widening the towpath would improve the situation in fact it could make it worse.”

That's a view backed up by 86.8 per cent of those taking part in The Floater's poll. Just 7.5 per cent thought it was a good idea with 5.5 per cent don't knows.

Commenting on the poll Dave said: “The canal is not a place for people who want to be selfish at the expense of everyone else's lives and safety and take everything for granted.

Margaret Atkinson added: “Surely cyclists should be paying to use the towpath particularly if they are endangering others.

“And by the way...Aren't cyclists supposed to dismount through tunnels and bridges. Fat chance!”

Nickie Stanley told The Floater: “How are C&RT able to reduce the width - thus enabling cyclist (who as far as I'm aware contribute nothing towards the canals & towpaths) carte blanche to continue cycling at 15-15 mph through a tunnel.

“I'm sorry but if anything it should be narrowed forcing cyclists to dismount & walk. A lot of cyclist already think the tow path is for their own private use hurling verbal abuse at anyone who happens to be walking along.”

“Instead of spending money on widening the path, I feel that money could be better spent on signage educating cyclists about protocol on cycling along a "shared" space.”

John Slee said: “C&RT really need to consider the heritage aspect more. Before long the canals will be totally unrecognisable as the ones they took over.

“Birmingham's canals have totally changed since I first boated there and while some aspects have improved, all character and uniqueness has been lost. A line needs to be drawn.

“Not only that, the impression of the Canal and River Trust under Richard Parry is that private boaters, of whom a higher percentage than ever are paying for a licence, are being marginalised in most media releases in favour of other towpath users.

“Reducing Edgbaston Tunnel from 2-way working to one way, bearing in mind the mix of privateers and hirers is liable to cause difficulties. The canal is already in need of dredging and this pinch point will only worsen the situation.”

Michael Nye added his view: “Given that there is an issue with cyclists going too fast, a simple notice for them to dismount and walk through this very short tunnel would be a far better solution than damaging what is an historic piece of engineering.

“Towpaths are not (in my view) an extention of our road or cycle route network and should never be seen as such.”

Peter Jaggers said: “The main point to consider before changing an historic structure like this tunnel has to be why, and does the benefit out weigh the loss.

The only group to benefit is those who don't want to slow and respect other users.
This equation is unbalanced especially when the only tangible benefit is measured mere seconds on a journey of at least fifteen minutes.”

Phil Benz told us: “It seems to me that C&RT are rapidly turning their backs on boaters in their desire to turn the canals into some sort of water national trust.

“What next - boaters restricted to operating on certain days so that we don't mess up the view for the anglers, cyclists and people who want to turn the towpaths into their vision of paradise.

Derek Jervis said: “The canals are for all, not just cyclists. narrowing the canal to allow cyclists to go even faster through this tunnel is just wrong.

“How about making the canal wider in the tunnel so boats can go faster as they pass each other and reduce the risk of collision. A stupid idea, just like widening the tow path.”

The verdict so far certainly seems that Ian Lane and the Birmingham City Council need to go back to the drawing board.

Photos: (1st) The Floater's Edgbaston Tunnel poll result, (2nd) the tunnel itself.

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