Frequently asked questions about potholes

Watch out for potholes!
Cyclist by a pothole in Devon
Cyclist by a pothole in Devon

Frequently asked questions about potholes

During our recent pothole week, reports on Fill That Hole doubled. But even with one report every 15 minutes, potholes remain a huge problem on UK roads and many of us still don’t know where they come from and who is supposed to fix them. We asked you to send us your questions on potholes.

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Q. How large does a pothole need to be or how dangerous to a cyclist, before it gets fixed?

I accept that potholes can be expensive to fill in, however how large or how dangerous to cyclists must they be to merit attention? Where I cycle there is a group of relatively small potholes requiring me to pull further out when already in the inside lane due to the outside lane being set aside for residents’ on-road parking. Pulling further out can be dangerous during rush hour, especially as buses use that road. Although not large enough to worry vehicle drivers, they are a danger to cyclists since, as they are not a concern to motorists, there’s a danger that they would not consciously notice them and therefore appreciate why cyclists are steering round them.

Answer:

Authorities refer to the same national code of practice when developing their own standards on potholes. This recommends looking at the risk the pothole could cause to road users rather than just the size of the hole. Councils are also instructed to consider the needs of all road users, particularly vulnerable users.  

We were however concerned that the new Code failed to mention the type of defects that put cyclists at most risk, such as the location of potholes at the side of the road, a concern we have raised with the Transport Select Committee as part of its local roads enquiry. 

Q. Why can some councils maintain roads so well and others not?

Not a question. Just an observation. For 30 years I lived and cycled in Buckinghamshire where so many roads are dreadful for cyclists. Recently I moved to Durham. The contrast is amazing - I have yet to come across a significant pothole and the vast majority of roads are perfect for cyclists. If one county council can maintain roads so well why can others not?

Answer:

It's difficult to say why one authority may be better than another. It could be down to council priorities, budgets, the number of vehicles and HGVs using the roads, weather, and the general age of the roads themselves. We're keen to help councils learn from each other, so we'll look into whether Durham have anything special going on which could be replicated elsewhere.

Q. Why does the app say a hole has been fixed when it’s still there?

I’ve looked at Fill That Hole App map for the first time. I’ve looked at a few areas of minor roads in Cheshire West that are currently abysmal and have been for several years. Most have been reported on the app and have the status as “fixed” - this is almost always inaccurate, and I know the roads are still abysmal. Someone is telling lies. Who marks them as fixed and when?    

Answer:

I appreciate your frustration. We are pushing for proper resurfacing to tackle underlying structural issues. Once potholes begin forming, usually more will follow. In this case it could be that only some of the potholes have been reported and these were fixed, or that the other holes were not considered bad enough to warrant repair. It’s also possible that all the potholes were repaired and have since come back. On Fill That Hole only the original reporter of the hole and the local authority can mark a pothole as fixed.

Q. What is the definition of a pothole?

What is Cycling UK’s definition of a pothole? Local Authorities use minimum linear dimensions in determining if a road surface defect needs correcting. Please give me some guidance on what the Cycling UK definition is of a ‘pothole’.    

Answer:

We’ve got a list of road defects that cause problems for cyclists and where we think action is required. Every highways authority uses its own guidance, but they should also refer to the national code of practice: Well-managed highway infrastructure. This recommends looking at the risk the pothole could cause to road users rather than just the size of the hole. Despite this, 65% of authorities do use 40mm depth as an initial guidance for intervention. 

Q. I reported a pothole weeks ago, but nothing has been done. What next?

Answer:

First, contact the council to ask if the hole has been inspected and if it has been scheduled for repair. If it isn't scheduled for repair, or you can't find out, your next step is legal action under s.56 Highways Act 1980, which involves obtaining a court order to force the authority to take action. 

Q. Why do pothole repairs only last a couple of weeks?

It’s almost pointless attempting to repair them. It also is quite soul destroying waiting a long period of time to find they have failed quickly and they need reporting again.

Answer:

Where you find potholes there are often structural issues under the road which means the pothole will quickly come back. Or if the new filling and old tarmac don’t have a strong bond this can lead to quick deterioration. We think it’s important to seal the road before it reaches the end of it’s lifespan or reconstruct it completely. This will prevent potholes from forming so frequently, and is better value for money. 

Q. Is Fill That Hole really the best app to use?

I have been using fillthathole for many years, but it has been frustrating seeing the same old problems with the site. I was told there was no budget to maintain or improve fillthathole. It looks like fixmystreet might be doing a better job. Also there is www.gov.uk/report-pothole and www.potholes.co.uk/users/login Which is the best?

Answer:

We’ve just updated the Fill That Hole site. If you log onto FillThatHole.org.uk we’re sure you’ll like the improvements and we plan to improve the app. Unlike gov.uk and potholes.co.uk, FillThatHole automatically sends the report direct to the council and allows us to compare potholes by county. It also allows authorities to report the hole as fixed. It is similar to fixmystreet, although fix my street covers a wider range of issues. 

Q. Shouldn’t we be pushing for proper repairs than quick fixes?

In Hampshire, they are filling potholes with a high pressure blaster, it is being hailed a success on cost alone and provides a very poor overfilled hump in the road that is awful and in some cases dangerous to cycle over. Having spoken to a Highways Engineer he confirmed that resurfacing and pothole repair is geared to motorists and cyclists are bottom of the food chain in consideration. I feel that in pushing pothole repairs we should be insisting on proper repairs to a higher standard than currently employed.

Answer:

While there is an ever expanding range of new technologies to deal with the potholes crisis, you are correct that the pothole problem will only be solved by proper, planned investment in our local roads. 

Reporting individual potholes is still important both for cyclist’s safety and to help cyclists claim compensation to help them recover from injuries. Cycling UK agrees that patch-up jobs are not a good long term solution and we think that some of the £25 billion the Government has ring-fenced for trunk roads and motorways should be directed towards the local roads we all use on a daily basis. 

Q. Why is there no national standard for repairing potholes?

The risk to cyclists from dangerous potholes does not vary because they are in one borough or another, so why don’t all authorities have a minimum standard for intervention for most severe and dangerous pothole, specific for cyclists? 

Answer:

All authorities refer to the same national code of practice when assessing potholes: Well-managed highway infrastructure, but then develop their own standards for inspection and action.

Q. Why are there no cycle specific intervention levels for an uneven surface?

Uneven surfaces can destabilise cyclists, so why are there no cycle specific intervention levels for an uneven surface? If doing a national campaign… maybe ask others to say what their borough intervention level is for the most severe pothole, before being fixed as an emergency? In London, TfL has some of the highest standards. 

Answer:

Although the national code of practice does refer to vulnerable road users, it unfortunately doesn't mention the site-specific type of defects that put cyclists at most risk, which is why many local authorities also fail to do so. Cycling UK has presented evidence to the Transport Selected Committee with calls to get the national advice changed to better consider cyclists' safety. 

Q. You could spend all day reporting potholes, what’s the point?

You could spend eight hours a day, forty hours a week, spotting, photographing and reporting potholes. There's that many.    

Answer:

There's no denying our roads are in a pretty terrible state, but it's still worth reporting, especially for dangerous potholes. Not only does this help our national campaign for Government to adopt a 'fix it first' approach to road maintenance, but it also stops an authority from using the defence that they didn't know about a pothole if someone is trying to claim compensation for a cycle injury.

Q. What’s the point in reporting potholes they are never shown on Fill That Hole as being fixed?

Fill That Hole has a neat process for reporting potholes, but rarely removes them from the map when fixed.  For example, many local authorities say they permanently fix all reported potholes within 28 days, but only about 10% are marked as fixed. So Fill Tha tHole can give the impression that it's not worth reporting potholes, because they 'never' get fixed. Can feedback from Councils be improved? Or should the map just show issues reported in the last 3 months, to encourage new potholes to be reported, or old ones to be reported again?  

Answer:

All potholes should still appear on an 'all reports' map to assist any claims arising. Feedback from some Councils can certainly be improved, although others are very good at reporting back. As you might have noticed, FillThatHole.org.uk now has a new look, and we're considering how to best update its functionality as well - so we'll look into the idea of time-limiting each report and removing fixed holes from the main map.

Q. What pressure can be put on councils to change their criteria to take into account of all road users?

Our local council will not fill in holes unless they are 40mm deep. This may be OK for vehicles that can run over potholes. It is not ok for bicycles where a much shallower hole can easily cause an accident. What pressure can be put on councils to change their criteria to take account of all road users, not just motor vehicles?

Answer:

We’ve given evidence to the Transport Select Committee to try to update guidance on when potholes need to be filled. This has included more specific guidance on potholes which are of particular risk to cyclists, e.g. the shape and location of the pothole, as well as the gradient of the road. We are still waiting for the Committee's enquiry to be published and we’ll continue to lobby Government to secure changes to this guidance. 

Q. Why don’t they fix all the holes at once and why not attach cameras on vehicles to monitor the roads?

A stitch in time saves nine. Could pothole fillers be given discretion to fill in neighbouring holes which may not - yet - meet the 40mm criterion? This would save repeat visits - and hence money - once the holes have inevitably grown.
Technology has a part to play. Holes are often detected or inspected by a man in a van. Hard to do a good job from a cab. Why not attach cameras to council owned vehicles to have real time monitoring rather than yearly inspections?
Also hole filling methods are often very crude. Why not equip special purpose vehicles with cutting routers which can excavate to a defined depth and perimeter with a clean edge? Quick and permanent repairs rather than bodges.

Answer:

Yes, investment would be required but the payback would be quick. We would definitely support such a move, but for the moment it is up to individual authorities to decide whether to implement this approach. We also support the use of technology to better inspect and fix potholes, but the underlying problem is funding, with authorities nationwide struggling after years of cuts.That's why we're calling for Government to adopt a 'fix it first' policy and direct some of its £25bn ring-fenced funding for motorways and trunk roads to the national potholes crisis, which would cost an estimated £9.3bn to fix. 

Why not organise club bike rides specifically to go out pothole spotting? A bit like the 'litter picks' that schools do alongside roads and footpaths.

Answer:    

We'd love to see Cycling UK (and other) cycling clubs organising pothole spotting rides and would encourage any group to do so. Add in some fun by seeing who can spot the biggest pothole, and who can report the most!
 

Q. There’s so many potholes we should invite tourists!

Should we be getting Gloucestershire County Council to promote the counties exceptional variety of potholes? They could easily be made into a tourist attraction and we could attract visitors from around the world especially countries like France where they are deprived the pleasure of avoiding pot holes. This could provide money that could be used to enhance those larger potholes which have become a feature in recent years.    

Answer:

What an idea, I can already see the tour packages: A History of Gloucestershire in 100 Potholes, Around Gloucestershire in 80 potholes, Journey to the Centre of the pothole? If you get Gloucestershire County Council on board we'd be happy to support. In all seriousness though - why not get (some of) those holes reported at FillThatHole.org.uk.

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