Main Roads and Well-Lit Routes
This might seem to defeat the point of Slow Ways, but hear me out.
I (and probably at least 50% of the population, let's be honest) don't feel comfortable working certain routes at night, or even during daylight hours. For me the main reason is that there is no 'escape route' available, e.g. if I'm walking on a canal towpath there are limited access points to major roads / population centres, or if I'm crossing a field there is just... more field. Additionally, you're not going to find street lights at the top of Mam Tor.
It can feel very unsafe to use certain routes at certain times (and you don't know if you're going to get caught out after dark if a route is challenging), but I still love going walking for long distances.
When using Google Maps, there are two problems that I frequently encounter that I'd like to find a solution to:
1. As above, if there was an option, or if it could be included in the review/rating somehow, to avoid secluded and poorly-lit routes;
2. To avoid major roads that are technically 'A' roads but extremely dangerous for pedestrians, e.g. a dual carriageway with national speed limit and no footpath.
Someone else has mentioned national speed limits in another post, but I'm including it in my query because the issue I'm concerned with is personal safety in general. I suppose what I'd like to see is a tickbox or something for 'safer' routes, or maybe a commentary on particular perceived hazards. Also remember that what looks dangerous to one person, e.g. a woman, might look safe to somebody else.
One way of illustrating what I mean is to consider two routes I have walked with the assistance of Google Maps.
Manchester to New Mills - The route is almost entirely on the A6, and as far as I can remember there are pavements for virtually the whole length.
Atherton to Manchester - I wish I'd checked the route before I set off. I naively thought the route would be 100% on roads, and then discovered while en route, after sunset, that it went along a farm track, a drainage ditch, through a field and a housing estate before returning to safer looking main roads.
I can also see this being useful when walking between cities, as most navigation software and maps are geared towards these journeys being taken by car - as I said, I enjoy looooong walks but it often doesn't feel safe, or there is no obvious non-motorway road route.
Part of the problem with tickboxes or something marked 'safer' would be how to determine what counts as qualifying, given that there are so many factors at work here with a good deal of subjectivity.
As an example, a route I've been working on uses secluded paths through woods because, well, there's a whopping big wood between the two places.
While of course safety is one of the Slow Ways criteria, so is walking off-road.
Perhaps the way forward is for surveyors to be sure to include a good selection of route photos so that people can view these before setting out and make their own mind up?0
Whilst I feel the first priority is 'off road', I do think there is a place for a 'paved route' option should one be available.1
I think this is a very good point, if Slow Ways are intended for everyone and designed as a map for walking journeys at all times of day and in all weathers, then it needs to include routes which are suitable for use throughout the year and at all times of day. It needs an 'All times and all weathers' category or flag.
A lot of off-road routes are very weather dependent, no use when its dark, or after heavy rain when paths have turned to mud. The 'off-road' thing is too binary because there's nothing wrong with walking along roads, the issue is more with very busy, congested or fast, unpleasant roads, there's lots of very quiet roads which are pleasant to walk and being paved, lit, safe and suitable for use all year round, in all weathers.
If there's too much emphasis on the 'off road' rather than all-times and all weathers, then it risks becoming a collection of rambling routes, for use on dry summers days, or needing walking gear. Ideally it needs both and an option to filter.1
In my opinion the desire to be "off road" has been one of the biggest faults in the routes I've reviewed. On a couple of occasions at the end of a 12km walk, as I've come into the destination village I've been diverted away from a high street of shops, pubs and cafes in order to follow a series of overgrown footpaths and maybe cross a couple of stiles to get to the meeting point. I've also reviewed a couple of routes in Birmingham which in the spirit of being off road have added roughly 50% distance whilst simultaneously not including any stopping points, despite being in the second largest city in the UK!1
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