Flush out dropped kerbs

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 28.

This is a typical dropped kerb on Stapleford to Sawston route (white ruler is 24 mm x 300 mm) note also that vegetation has narrowed the path significantly and obscured its edge markings.

Whilst living near Reading I knew of someone who had an accident cycling to work due to a poorly designed cycle facility, specifically a dropped kerb. He later sued the local council. I mentioned the incident to Cambridgeshire County Council when they put in a similar dropped kerb on a route in Stapleford in the early 80s, and the County’s Network Management Plan now has a standard for such facilities:

‘Dropped kerbs across a cycleway should be flush (3.0 mm high) with carriageway or access, particularly where cyclists will cross obliquely.’ (Network Management Plan 1999 Appendix D section 4.16 – the actual text says ‘0.3 mm’ but I believe that must be an error as I have seen 3 mm quoted elsewhere.)

As the County Council is still constructing facilities which do not conform to this standard (such as at the entrance to the petrol station on the new Babraham Road path), I decided to contact the person involved in the accident in Reading to ask him what happened. Here is his account which we hope will help raise awareness of the dangers of using shared use or segregated paths that are incorrectly designed or constructed.

‘Your recollection is right, in that on a damp morning in late November 1983 I came off my bike at a point where a cycle track began on the pavement along a straight section of A329 at Winnersh (where the M4 goes over). It does not take much geometric analysis to realise that inevitably in such circumstances one has to cross the kerb line at a shallow angle. I am not entirely sure what happened but I think my back wheel preferred to stay on the road and skidded along the kerb (which had been lowered but was still at least an inch proud). I cannot explain why I went over the handlebar rather than keeling off sideways unless my unconscious reaction slewed the bike round a bit. Being 1983 (before All Terrain Bikes) it was an ordinary touring/racing bike with drop handlebars and 26×1.25’ wheels. No other person or vehicle was involved.

I was taken to hospital with shock symptoms and what turned out to be a broken jaw, having landed on my chin. I was operated on to repair the jaw on the same day, under general anaesthetic, and woke up in intensive care in case the anaesthetic made me vomit. In an attempt to keep the delicate broken bone (near the left hinge of the jaw) in place my upper teeth had been wired to my lower teeth, which rather hampered the progress of anything into or out of my mouth. Hence the need for intensive care. I was wired for over 5 weeks, but I managed to get them to unwire me in time for Christmas. In the mean time, thanks to one previously-missing front tooth, I was able to take liquids through a straw – all my food, even lamb chops, had to be liquidised. I took legal advice and was told that I should put in a claim for damages. As soon as I could, I complained to Berkshire CC (then responsible for highways in the county, now abolished). Within a few days, during which I was otherwise engaged and before I could get a photograph of the scene, the road repairers had been out. This, incidentally, far from covering up the evidence, proved that Berkshire County Council were responsible for an unsafe state of road!

‘I was taken to hospital with shock symptoms and what turned out to be a broken jaw’

After nearly two years and some wrangling the claim was paid – dental costs of £1200 plus £3500 damages. I celebrated by buying my first mountain bike!

Another point that grieved me was that at the end of this shared-use cycle-track, they had constructed a nice little ramp about 18 inches wide down on to the road, so that an oblique kerb crossing was avoided. Why on earth hadn’t they done that (in reverse) at the start of the track?’

Even though I am aware of the dangers, I have also had a fall joining a section of the Stapleford to Sawston cycle route when there were wet leaves. Luckily I was unhurt and, after making a complaint, the kerb was lowered.

So, if there is a poor quality dropped kerb on your regular route, be careful, especially in the wet and when there are fallen leaves. Measure the height and the normal crossing angle and, if they do not conform to the County’s own standard, write and complain to the County Council. Perhaps you might save yourself or someone else from having to have all their food via a straw for five weeks.

Jim Chisholm