Towpath commuters: be polite to each other, advises Debrett’s

British Waterways has commissioned etiquette bible Debrett’s to issue towpath guidance for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Debrett’s polite code of conduct to commuters is said by British Waterways to “remind people how to behave on the towpath.”

Issued specifically for users of the Regent’s Canal towpath in London, the new guidance from British Waterways hopes that “collisions and clashes on the canal can be replaced by the tinging of bicycle bells, and the sound of Londoner’s bidding a good morning with a thank you and a smile to their fellow towpath commuters.”

Thousands of cyclists, walkers, joggers, dog walkers and boaters use the canals to travel around London each week. [And, ahem, it’s likely more cyclists will start using the Regent’s Canal towpath thanks to clever routing by the Bike Hub iPhone app, a free download from iTunes…]

British Waterways’ towpath ranger, Joseph Young, said: “In most instances pedestrians and cyclists share the towpath with no problems, but we are seeing an increase in the number of speeding cyclists, who seem to forget, or aren’t aware, that pedestrians do have right of way. Sometimes cyclists can forget how fast and threatening they can be if they are passing you at speed. It’s all about sharing the route and remembering how your actions could be perceived by others.”

Debrett’s, said to be “the modern authority on all matters of etiquette, taste and achievement”, offers advice about how to behave on all modes of transport. Last year Debrett’s was commissioned by Vauxhall Astra to produce an etiquette guide for motorists.

The etiquette maestros have “identified five top tips to help Londoner’s travel the towpaths safely and politely.”

Jo Bryant of Debrett’s said: “The towpaths are a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle of the roads and pavements of the city. They should be a more tranquil and relaxing place to travel along. But it seems that some people are forgetting their manners and speeding past other people, or refusing to move out of the way. Here at Debrett’s we hope that these top tips will be a gentle reminder to towpath users, and encourage a return to more polite and amicable behaviour along the waterways.”

Debrett’s top tips for safe, shared towpath use are:

• Cyclists must be aware of pedestrians at all times. Remember that pedestrians have priority – ring two tings on your bell to warn them that you are approaching. Pass people carefully and slowly, and never cycle too quickly.


• Pedestrians should allow cyclists to pass wherever possible. Don’t forget to listen out for the two tings warning you that a cyclist is approaching.


• Both cyclists and pedestrians should be considerate to each other, as well as both being extra careful at bends and entrances along the towpath. A smile and polite ‘thank you’ is courteous if someone has let you pass.


• Respect the environment and the waterway’s natural beauty. Never drop any litter.


• Dog walkers must always clean up after their dog.

Towpath Ranger, Joseph Young explains: “We’ve tried a whole host of methods to educate people about sharing the towpath, and rather than just shout at people to slow down or hand them a leaflet, we’ve found that capturing people’s imagination works best.”

Last year, Young commissioned a pavement artist to paint a deep hole on a towpath to make cyclists slow down.

British Waterways, working with Transport for London, also runs the Two Tings campaign that aims to tackle the issue of conflict between speeding cyclists and pedestrians who have right of way on the towpath.


The campaign was started three years ago following an increase in the number of complaints received about incidents of conflict on the towpath between cyclists and pedestrians.

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