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 2016 (GB), in road traffic incidents for which the police recorded a ‘contributory factor’, the percentage attributed to a ‘poor or defective road surface’ was almost four times higher for cycles as it was for motor vehicles (excluding motorbikes).
  • Around 12% of the legal claims handled by Cycling UK’s Incident Line on behalf of our members is due to poor maintenance.
  • On average from 2013 to 2017, 163 local authorities in Britain paid out £867.88 per successful claim to motorists, and £11007.12 to cyclists – or 13 times as much.
  • 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, were reported to be in poor condition (i.e. with less than five years left in them).
  • In Scotland, over a four year period 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 c14 years to clear.
  • For 2017/18, authorities in England, Wales and London in total reported a £555.7m shortfall in their annual carriageway maintenance budget or, on average, £3.3m each.
  • The average cost to fill one pothole reactively is £74 in England, £89 in London and £60 in Wales.
  • While 13 Scottish authorities increased their spending on road maintenance between 2011/12 and 2014/15, overall council expenditure went down from £302m to £259m.
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.
  • 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.
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.