The challenge of life under Covid-19 restrictions has triggered an estimated 200 per cent increase in the use of Sandwell’s canal towpaths as more people go walking, jogging and cycling on them.
The increased need for exercise away from busy areas has encouraged more local people to reconnect with their local neighbourhood and green spaces.
Now Sandwell Council is to do more to encourage more and more people to get out on the canal system in the future.
Councillor Jackie Taylor, Sandwell’s cabinet member for sustainable transport, said:
“Sandwell’s many miles of canals provide a valuable and often hidden resource for our residents.
“The canal towpaths are peaceful green corridors where people of all ages can experience nature as part of their daily exercise efforts.
“The council is doing what it can to encourage, promote and sustain the use of canals and towpaths for a range of activities.
“We are working closely with the Canal and River Trust, the organisation that looks after our waterways, to get more people using and appreciating our canals.
“As well as providing havens for wildlife in the midst of our busy and built up borough, canals can also offer flat, convenient cycle routes. Cycling is a cheap and healthy way to get about, whether travelling to work or school, or just for enjoyment.”
Councillor Taylor said the council was taking steps to encourage people to make journeys by bike along improved canal towpaths.
Adnan Saif, director of West Midlands at Canal & River Trust, said:
“We know how invaluable our canals are to local communities and it’s wonderful that people are discovering their local towpaths for their daily exercise.
"During this time, people are switching to spend time on less-used canals in residential areas, and away from tourist hotspots and busy city centre locations.
"Our canals provide, for many people, a vital green/blue route on-their-doorstep and we do ask that people act considerately at this time – standing aside for others to pass and to respect social distancing where the towpath narrows.”
The Birmingham main line canal towpath has been resurfaced all the way between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, through funding from the Local Growth Fund ‘Managing Short Trips 2 Programme’. The project was overseen by the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership and managed by the West Midlands Combined Authority in partnership with the Canal and River Trust, Dudley, Sandwell and Wolverhampton councils.
This has increased usage of these towpaths considerably, connected communities, added new opportunities for sustainable travel and helped make the canals safer, better used and more appreciated places.
As part of the Sandwell Walking and Infrastructure Plan, there are also proposals to resurface Dudley Number 2 Canal, running between Old Hill station and Warrens Hall Country Park, with potential for Dudley Council and the Canal and River Trust to create an off-road, traffic-free cycle and walking route as far as the Waterfront at Merry Hill.
Advice on social distancing on canal towpaths is available at: www.canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/safety-on-our-waterways/coronavirus
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