In the old London Routemaster bus, the conductor would tug the cord twice on the cabin ceiling, and - ding!-ding! - the bell would ring to tell the driver to move off. That sound conveyed such a sense of 'get a move on!' urgency in my childhood.
Today BW is starting a campaign on the London canal towpaths that's trying to bring back that sound for a very different meaning. The new Two Tings campaign wants to persuade towpath cyclists to start ringing their bells, and cycle more considerately.
The campaign will explain that pedestrians have priority over cyclists and asks cyclists to use a bell giving ‘Two Tings’ when approaching pedestrians, pass people slowly giving them space and to ride at a sensible speed. It also asks pedestrians to listen for the ‘Two Tings’ and allow cyclists to pass.
As I see it, the bit about pedestrians 'listening for the two tings' is a sop to cyclists. After all, if you are hard of hearing, or you've got on your iPod (or you are simply distracted), you are hardly at fault if a cyclist runs into you from behind. And if you are short-sighted, or looking at your friend (or craning your neck at a pretty girl) you could be excused if a cyclist runs into you from the front. The 'tings', in other words, are like car horns: their sole purpose is to warn people you are approaching, not to command them to move.
As the official BW leaflet says:
Use a bell and ring it twice when approaching a pedestrian. This will provide a signal that you are there and waiting to pass when it is safe to do so. Please do not ring your bell constantly at pedestrians.
Last year Guardian journalist Matthew Weaver wrote a piece about how much he enjoyed cycling on the canal towpath - and admitted breaking some of the guidelines:
I don't own a cycle permit and have never been asked to produce one, I cycle more than 6mph, I don't get off under narrow bridges, I don't have third party insurance, and I have to confess to not always giving pedestrians the right of way. But at the same I don't behave to pedestrians as car drivers do to me on the roads.
Here's a great (and long) comment from Richard Hyett on travelling in London, including an interest section on cycling on the Regent's Canal towpath.