Pothole repairs should prioritise cycling safety

Potholes and poorly maintained roads are significantly dangerous for people cycling, with reported cases of serious injury and, recently, in Lancashire, a tragic death. However, to date, this increased danger to people cycling has not been considered in the prioritisation of road maintenance and pothole repair. The current approach to maintenance is based on mitigating damage to cars; however, the county is failing to keep up with maintenance to this standard. 

The state of our roads is now so bad that it is stopping people from cycling due to safety fears and the discomfort of cycling on such uneven surfaces. Potholes cause frequent mishaps such as punctures, damaged wheels and excessive wear and tear on cycles. Attempts to avoid potholes can also make cycling unsafe, as cyclists cannot maintain a straight line on the road and may need to veer into traffic. In wet weather, they need to avoid all puddles as any puddle could be hiding a very dangerous pothole. 

The county council states that it will prioritise repairing potholes that it deems to be a danger to the public, however, the requirements for these repairs are clearly inadequate for keeping cyclists safe. The priority for repairs is strategic and main distributor road types with potholes on minor roads, which are often strategic cycle routes, allowed to become much deeper and wait much longer for repair. 

Many of the issues we face locally are a symptom of national policies and funding. Cycling UK is campaigning for the UK Roads Leadership Group to update and improve the national guidance to make sure potholes that put cyclists at risk are prioritised. However, it would be possible for Cambridgeshire County Council to do better than the current standards. 

With the highest rates of cycling in the country, it is vital that our region leads the way in prioritising active travel users in road maintenance policies. Therefore, Camcycle is calling for the county council to do the following: 

  • Change the criteria for pothole repair and road maintenance to tackle the issues that cause danger to people walking and cycling. e.g. the threshold for pothole repair should be a shallower depth and smaller size.  
  • Prioritise routes for repair based on the cycling network and the routes with the highest volumes of cycle traffic. 
  • Improve the efficiency and quality of pothole repairs
  • Prioritise these same routes for gritting and other maintenance as well.

Lewis Herbert, Cambridge resident and former leader of the Cambridge City Council, suffered injury from a pothole-caused crash earlier this year. At the Cambridgeshire County Council Full Council meeting on 12 December, he asked:

How effectively and quickly it will tackle broken roads and properly fill potholes in Cambridge and market towns, heavily used by local cyclists, motorbikes and vulnerable pedestrians, and improve the safety of local people and reduce the number of accidents?”

Cllr Alex Beckett’s response was positive, indicating a forthcoming active travel road maintenance hierarchy and revised active travel gritting strategy. Both documents are to be released next year.  

Responding to this news, Camcycle CEO, Roxanne De Beaux, said:

Camcycle welcomes the news that the county council is reviewing maintenance policies and plans to release an active travel road maintenance hierarchy paper at the January Highways & Transport committee meeting. We also welcome news of a revised gritting strategy to be released in the coming months. It is deeply wrong that the users who cause the least damage to our roads face the greatest risks from the poor conditions and are prioritised last when it comes to maintenance. Cambridgeshire should be leading the nation in keeping our roads safe for people walking and cycling, and improvements to our maintenance policies cannot come fast enough. However, the backlog of issues is very long, and we need to know how these repairs will be funded the recent government announcement of £4.1 million of potholes funding for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority should provide the perfect opportunity to make our roads safe for all users.”


Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK, said:

Britain’s pothole crisis costs lives and is responsible for countless serious and life changing injuries every year.

“We urgently need more investment in our local roads to ensure they’re safe. However, that’s not enough – councils also need to spend that money well by ensuring their maintenance guidelines properly prioritise repair of the most dangerous potholes, such as those which pose a particular risk to people cycling.”