Highway maintenance

Briefing
Cyclists need smooth, defect-free roads

Highway maintenance

Headline Message 
  • 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).
Policy Key Facts 
  • Between 2007 and 2016 (GB), a 'poor or defective road surface' was recorded by police at the scene as a ‘contributory factor’ (CF) in incidents in which 22 cyclists died and 368 were seriously injured.
  • In 2017 (GB), in incidents for which the police recorded a CF, the percentage attributed to a ‘poor or defective road surface’ was almost four times higher for cycles than it was for each type of motor vehicle (except for motorcycles).
  • Around 12% of the legal claims handled by Cycling UK’s Incident Line on behalf of our members is due to poor maintenance.
  • Between 2013 and 2017, the average pay-out for a successful maintenance-related injury claim from 163 highway authorities in Britain was 13 times higher for cyclists (£11,007.12) than for motorists (£867.88)
  • In England, Wales and London (2017/18), over half of all local authority roads were reported to be in good structural condition (i.e. with 15 years or more life left in them). One in five, however, was reported to be in poor condition (i.e. with less than five years left).
  • Over a four-year period 2011/12 to 2014/15, 63% of roads maintained by Scottish Councils were in an acceptable condition, but that there was a wide variation among them (44% - 77%). In 2018, Audit Scotland reported “no significant change” in road condition.
  • The maintenance backlog in England, Wales and London will take c14 years to clear.
  • In England, the proportion of local highway maintenance budgets allocated to minor roads – where most cycling takes place – dropped from 65% in 2008/9 to just 51% in 2016/17. 
  • For 2017/18, authorities in England & Wales (including London) reported a total shortfall of £555.7 million in their annual carriageway maintenance budget, an average of £3.3 million each.
Cycling UK View 
  • 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.
  • The business case for highway maintenance investment should reflect the environmental and health benefits of reduced fuel consumption, and the deterrent effect of poor surfaces on cycling and walking (due to the greater risks and effort involved), as well as the reduced costs of highway repairs, delays, and damages to both people and vehicles.
  • National guidance, and the 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 highways authorities are liable when cyclists suffer injury or other damages due to highway defects.
  • For cyclists, the location and shape of a surface defect, not just the depth, are important. All guidance should therefore emphasise that special consideration must be given to defects that:
    • Are at or near junctions;
    • Are on downhill sections of roads;
    • Present 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.
  • Highway authorities should be encouraged to use bicycles with sensors to monitor road and cycle track surface quality, and to use specialised narrower vehicles to keep cycle tracks free of debris and vegetation, or from snow and ice.
  • Safe and convenient cycle access should be retained at the site of road/streetworks, wherever possible.
  • Utility companies must ensure that reinstatements are safe, and remain safe, for cycling; and that cycle signing, coloured surfacing and other features are retained or enhanced. 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.
  • The providers of defect management systems for highway authorities should integrate their products with Fill that Hole and similar public defect-reporting websites, to facilitate two-way communication between site-users and highway authorities.
  • 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.
Download the full detailed campaign briefing 
Cyclists suffer disproportionately from poor highway maintenance, so they need local authorities to keep surfaces smooth, well-swept and defect-free.