All road users benefit from good road maintenance and effective lighting. Cyclists, however, suffer more than most from defects in the surface, and councils don't always light cycle paths.
A rough road surface - or even a relatively minor fault in it - can make cycling not only uncomfortable, but extremely hazardous. Hitting a pothole, or swerving to avoid one can lead to loss of control, collisions and falls. Poor drainage, or sunken, raised or badly fitted drain covers can also present dangers, as can thoughtlessly installed cats eyes and road studs.
Indeed, well over 10% of the injury reports made to CTC’s Incident Line for members involve road defects.
There are all sorts of reasons for deterioration: passage of time and vehicles; harsh weather conditions; freeze/thaw; or simply neglect.
‘Street works’ carried out by statutory undertakers (e.g. water, telecom companies etc) often cause problems too – after the road surface has been broken into, repairs may not be particularly well done and not last long. What's more, there is a tendency to forget about cyclists whilst road works are actually being carried out - temporary traffic lights, for example, may not give them enough time to get past; or they may be sent on a long, relatively unsafe diversion.
Lack of funding has a lot to do with the poor state of the roads. The 2012 Alarm report (from the Asphalt Industry Alliance) says that while there are signs that the situation in England and Wales is improving, there is still a projected annual shortfall of £800 million.
Broken glass and other debris tends to collect at the side of the road and, as this is where cyclists usually ride, is not only a puncture risk nuisance, but can cause cyclists to fall. Regular sweeping - that doesn't forget about cycle paths away from the carriageway - is essential, therefore.
Good lighting is, obviously, important for cyclists wherever they ride. Unfortunately, councils sometimes omit to light cycle paths away from the road, usually because of the cost. Riding along unlit paths at night can be hazardous, or make people feel insecure – meaning that even routes that are otherwise well designed may not be used to their full potential.
The highway authority is responsible for highway lighting, but it can pay district councils and parish councils to carry out further work
CTC takes road defects so seriously, that we offer an online reporting tool - Fill That Hole - please use it!
For a discussion of road defects, plus an intriguing insight into how potholes form - see Roads to Ruin, an article by CTC's Chris Peck for Cycle magazine (Dec/Jan 2011/12).
In 2003, CTC gave written and oral evidence to the Parliamentary Transport Committee's inquiry into local roads and pathways, explaining why maintenance is so important to cyclists. The Committee agreed.
Local authorities and Government are letting cyclists down by failing to ensure the road network is kept in a condition safe for them to use. This must be a key factor in deterring potential cyclists and in the disappointing levels of cycle use.
Maintenance policies should prioritise cycle routes and facilities and the 1.5m of carriageway closest to the kerbside where cyclists commonly ride.
The positioning of drainage, cats eyes and road studs should be planned to avoid as far as is possible: cycle lanes; the metre strip on the left side of major roads and the kerbside within one metre of the carriageway.
Routine maintenance including cleaning and sweeping should be timetabled in respect of all cycle facilities
On busy roads, gully openings should be in the kerb face, rather than on the carriageway surface.
The highways authority should consider cyclists whilst exercising its powers of quality control during and after street works.
The Codes of Practice should safeguard the interests of cyclists.
Fines for individual defects should be sufficient to deter large companies such as the statutory undertakers from carrying out inadequate reinstatement.
A safe alternative facility for cyclists and/or pedestrians should be provided where streetworks obstruct a shared path or footway.
Cycle speeds should be taken into account in the phasing of all temporary traffic signals.
The standards of reinstatement established under the 1991 Streetworks Act should be maintained.
Personal security should be a consideration in the provision of lighting. Any defect in street lighting should be repaired within 48 hours of notification.
Cycle lanes or tracks should be lit where practical.
Unless our potholes are properly fixed, next summer’s Olympic road race could have echoes of Paris-Roubaix’s pavé. CTC Campaigns and Policy Coordinator Chris Peck explains why UK roads are so bad.
Occasionally when cycling in France you will come across a road sign that says ‘Chausée déformée’, followed by a section of road that is perhaps a bit on the bumpy side or contains the occasional pothole. I’ve always found this sign hilarious. If the standards used in France were adopted in Britain, there would be many roads where this sign would have to be erected every few hundred metres over their entire length.