Highway maintenance

Cherry Allan's picture
Road maintenance
Cyclists need smooth, defect-free roads
Headline Messages: 
  • For their comfort and safety, cyclists need highway authorities to maintain smooth and defect-free roads.
  • Potholes, ruts, loose gravel, ice or diesel/oil spills not only make cycling uncomfortable, but can cause serious, sometimes fatal injuries.
  • Any road maintenance procedure is a cost-effective opportunity to make other changes to improve conditions for cycling at the same time (e.g. through road layout or marking).
Key facts: 

Road safety

  • In 2015 (GB), in incidents for which the police recorded a ‘contributory factor’, they decided a ‘poor or defective road surface’ contributed to a three times higher percentage of crashes involving cyclists than it did for those involving cars.
  • Around 12% of the legal claims handled by Cycling UK’s Incident Line on behalf of our members is due to poor maintenance.
  • Ice accounts for around 26% of cyclists’ non-collision injuries.

Road conditions

  • England, Wales and London: in 2016/17, around half of all local authority roads were reported as being in good structural condition (i.e. with 15 years or more life left in them). However, one is six were reported to be in poor condition (i.e. with less than five years left in them).

  • Scotland: over a four-year period from 2011/12 to 2014/15, 63% of roads maintained by Scottish councils were in an acceptable condition, but this varied widely (44% - 77%).

  • The maintenance backlog in England, Wales and London will take c12 years to clear.

Costs

  • In the ALARM 2017 survey (which 63% of local authorities in England, Wales and London completed), authorities between them reported a £729.9m shortfall in their annual carriageway maintenance budget or, on average, £4.3m per authority.  
  • The average cost to fill one pothole reactively is £69 in England, £98 in London and £59 in Wales.
  • While 13 Scottish authorities increased their spending between 2011/12 and 2014/15, overall council expenditure went down from £302m to £259m. Overall, councils spent £33 million (13%) less on planned and routine maintenance in 2014/15 than the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation Scotland (SCOTS) considers necessary to maintain the current condition of local roads.
  • Altogether in England and Wales (including London), road user compensation claims amounted to £6m in 2016/17, plus £3.3m on staff costs to process them.
Cycling UK View (formal statement of Cycling UK's policy): 
  • All road users suffer from poorly maintained roads, but cyclists are disproportionately affected.
  • Local authorities need sufficient funding so that they can maintain roads well.
  • National guidance, policies and standards adopted by individual highway authorities for inspecting and prioritising repairs should take account of cyclists’ comfort and safety. These should then be used to assess whether or not highways authorities are liable when cyclists suffer injury or other damages due to highway defects.
  • The location and shape of a defect, and not just the depth are important. Special consideration needs to be given to those that:
    • Are located towards the side of the road;
    • Are at or near junctions;
    • Are on downhill sections of roads;
    • Present cyclists with a sharp upstand on the far side of the defect;
    • Run along rather than across the path that cyclists will be taking, i.e. those which are more likely to trap a cyclist’s wheel.
  • Local authorities should devote more of their resources to road surface renewal or resurfacing programmes, rather than short-term, emergency patching.
  • Minor roads and off-road cycle facilities, where most cycling occurs, should be given greater priority in highway maintenance policies and procedures (including winter maintenance), while the whole-life upkeep of off-road cycle routes should be planned and costed-in from the outset.
  • Safe and convenient cycle access should be retained at the site of road/streetworks, wherever possible.
  • Utility companies must ensure that reinstatements are safe for cycling and remain safe. Where utility companies perform to a poor standard, local authorities must oblige them to reinstate to a proper condition.
  • Authorities should respond quickly to any reports made by cyclists alerting them to road defects. Online reporting tools (e.g. Cycling UK’s Fill that Hole) are an effective channel for this.
  • When resurfacing, local authorities should take the opportunity to ‘cycle proof’ the road, i.e. systematically consider improving cycling conditions as part of the project. This approach requires coordination between maintenance planning, highways engineers and those promoting sustainable travel. It also helps maximise the synergies between cycling and maintenance budgets and enhances their value.
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Publication Date: 
March 2017

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