Two wheels is good, but not at the expense of the walkers

WITH today s focus on the health of the planet and the health of its people, everyone agrees that it s good to walk or jog, and it s good to cycle. But the relationship between pedal power and those who prefer to travel on foot is often uneasy, and is bei

WITH today's focus on the health of the planet and the health of its people, everyone agrees that it's good to walk or jog, and it's good to cycle. But the relationship between pedal power and those who prefer to travel on foot is often uneasy, and is being severely tested now both in relation to the Parkland Walk, and Hampstead Heath.

What precisely is intended for the Parkland Walk is unclear, though recent revelations by the local Lib Dems suggest that the money is already in place for improvements designed to attract more cyclists and speed up cycling journey times.

Let's remember that there are people who use if for walking, running and cycling. Yet there is little doubt that the tranquillity of the route would be shattered to some extent if it became more of a mecca for cyclists. This is because the navigable route, for its greater part, isn't much wider than the train track that used to be there.

Most of those who believe in 'two wheels good' and who take to the Parkland Walk are courteous and responsible, cycling in a way that acknowledges the presence of walkers who are often accompanied by children or dogs. But there is an understandable concern that upgrading the walk in a way that attracts more cyclists would make it a much less welcoming environment for walkers, and that would be a great shame.


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Besides, one of the attractions of the Parkland Walk is its uncultivated nature, both in summer when it comes to abundant life, and in winter when walkers can't tackle it without their wellies. In that sense it is an oasis amid the hustle and bustle. Perhaps the most satisfactory solution is for it to remain untouched by human hand - as far as is possible without it becoming completely impenetrable to all.

A couple of miles away on Hampstead Heath, a battle is raging between cyclists who want the number of paths and links that are open to them to be increased by nine, and the Heath For Feet lobby which believes that there should be no increase at all. Cycling has to be encouraged as much as possible, but over the years the Heath has become a virtual walker's paradise, simply because it is one of the few places in London where a person can walk for miles without encountering any form of vehicle, apart from those deemed necessary for safety and maintenance.

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Hundreds of cyclists already use the Heath every day to get to and from work. They deserve credit for, quite literally, getting on their bikes. Undoubtedly many of them do so because they are socially responsible people.

But risking a change that could turn large swathes of the Heath into an integral part of the commuter transport network is asking a lot, even in an era when cycling is seen by some as the holy grail of environmental enhancement.

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