England Gets Its Ducks in a Row With 'Duck Lanes'

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duck lanes
Duck lanes are meant to reduce ruffled feathers on narrow towpaths. (Photo: Bethany Clarke/Canal & River Trust/Getty Images)

A U.K. charity is fed up with the foul behavior of pedestrians and cyclists on England's narrow canal walkways. So, in hopes of modeling better manners, it has begun to encourage more fowl behavior.

The Canal & River Trust is designating duck lanes — yes, lanes for ducks — along certain high-traffic routes, marked by a white line and a duck silhouette. Ducks are frequent users of the slender canal walkways, also known as towpaths, but they must compete for space with a gaggle of joggers, cyclists and other humans, many of whom are distracted by smartphones.

Even England's most astute ducks probably won't get it, of course, and no one really expects the birds to stay in their lanes. The markings are meant as visual reminders for humans to slow down and be courteous, part of the Trust's "Share the Space, Drop Your Pace" campaign. The goal is to make these cramped corridors more pleasant for everyone — including locals, tourists and wildlife.

"For many people our towpaths are among their most precious green spaces, antidotes to the pace and stress of the modern world and places to relax and unwind," says Richard Parry, CEO of the Canal & River Trust, in a statement. "Today they are more popular than ever, with more investment in improvements and better signage, but with that success there are also problems."

Many of the towpaths date back 200 years, built during the Industrial Revolution so people and horses could tow boats through canals from land. The Canal & River Trust, which manages about 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, says more than 400 million visits were made to its towpaths alone in 2014. While the charity isn't complaining about the paths' popularity, Parry says too much hustle and bustle could erode their traditional role as "super slow ways" through busy urban areas.

That's why the Trust is trying out duck lanes, hoping to snap busy humans out of their absent-minded haste. Towpath ranger Dick Vincent painted temporary lanes in several parts of London, Quartz reports, and similar markings have been added to towpaths in Birmingham and Manchester, according to CityMetric. The Trust received £8 million ($12.3 million) of funding in 2014 to improve 30 miles of towpaths, and it plans to invest another £10 million ($15.4 million) over the next year.

Making way for ducklings, along with adult ducks and other urban wildlife, should help maintain England's towpaths as "preserves for old-fashioned good manners," Parry says. "We can all help by slowing down and remembering we are all there to enjoy the space."