Cycling UK has called for the Government to reallocate funding from its £15bn Road Investment Strategy into fixing local roads after figures from the Department for Transport revealed that nearly 100 cyclists a year are injured by potholes that councils deem too small to fix.
On Saturday, we reported on the case of Iain Turnbull who was left with concussion and cuts after going over his handlebars on a pothole, but who was refused compensation by North Yorkshire county council as the road had been inspected a week earlier and ‘no defects’ found. The pothole that caused the incident was only 3cm deep.
Cycling UK said that better guidance was needed to take into account the position of defects, together with greater understanding of the difficulties potholes can present for vulnerable road users.
Its view is that there is little to be gained from defining a minimum size of pothole, as a qualified highways inspector’s judgement is frequently needed.
Campaigns Coordinator Sam Jones points out that much will depend on a pothole’s position in the road. While a minor defect on a flat road might not present a major hazard to someone cycling, if encountered on a downward slope approaching a junction where speed might be greater and control impacted by signalling, then the same pothole could become highly dangerous.
According to The Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure: a Code of Practice, published by the Department for Transport in October 2016: “To provide clarity, authorities should adopt dimensional definitions for potholes based on best practice as part of their maintenance policy.”
As for what this might actually mean, it refers to the Prevention and a better cure: Potholes Review published in 2012 as useful background.
This report explains: “There is no nationally agreed measurement for a pothole, although some authorities have adopted a dimensional definition as a basis for inspection. Others adopt a risk-based approach, where the highway inspector makes a judgement. However, it would seem that the majority of authorities adopt an approach that combines a dimensional definition with risk-based decision making.”
The Cycle Proofing Working Group was meant to be consulted in the publication of the Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure: a Code of Practice document, but its meeting with the relevant team was cancelled, and in the end they were only able to submit best practice guidelines.
Cycling UK believes planned road maintenance is the best solution, as not only will this address the underlying problems causing the potholes, but there is also the opportunity for local authorities to amend the road layout at the same time to include cycling infrastructure at little cost and inconvenience to other road users.
Jones said: “While the number of KSIs due to defective road surfacing was thankfully down in 2015, the overall trend is worryingly on the up. The UK has a pothole problem estimated to cost over £12bn to fix, so the Government’s commitment of £6bn is a bit like using a sticking plaster to fix a broken leg.
“Potholes are a real problem for people cycling, especially during the autumn and winter months when they are harder to spot due to the poorer light, ground water or leaf fall. Every year, Cycling UK helps thousands of our members with pothole related injuries and damages to make claims against local authorities. If the roads were in a fit state, there would be no need for cash strapped councils to be paying out nor families across the country having to struggle with the loss of a loved one.
“Rather than investing in new A-roads and motorways, Government should look to reallocate funding from its £15bn Road Investment Strategy into fixing our local roads which everyone uses every day.”
He adds that while local authorities have a legal duty to keep the roads in good repair, being cash strapped they cannot run as many reviews as they might like.
Cycling UK’s Fill That Hole tool is designed to help them be more targeted in their work and therefore more cost efficient.
The organisation does however warn that there is a risk of over reporting, having heard that some councils have refused to accept reports from a very small minority of individuals and have applied “disengage” policies with them rather than accepting that they were trying to help.