Bumpy ride

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 29.

Over the years we have tried various ways of raising the problems that poor surfaces cause for cyclists. In June 1997 we even got front-page coverage in the Cambridge Evening News for a National Bike Week pothole golf event.

We’ve finally decided to grasp the nettle, and produce our own postcards to simplify reporting of maintenance-related problems

We’ve tried publicising the various council phone numbers for reporting problems. But the trouble is that there are so many numbers to call. You need to know which Council should deal with the specific area and then which department to talk to within that Council. The County Council sub-contracts road maintenance to the City Council – under a so-called ‘agency agreement’. However, I recently discovered that the boundary of the agency agreement doesn’t even coincide with the City boundary, so problems in Fulbourn, for example, are repaired by the City Council.

Even once you know which council to call, it’s not unusual to phone one council to report a problem, only to be told to phone the other one, and then in turn be told to phone the number you first thought of!

Not so much a pothole as a crater

Back in November 1998 we wrote to the County Council, asking them to extend the Freephone number which is currently used for reporting of lighting faults, to include road maintenance and street sign problems. We cited a similar scheme in Edinburgh, called Clarence, as a good example. No joy.

We’ve tried reporting specific problem areas, such as the dreadful surface on Regent Terrace. The reply here was that a scoring system is used to decide priorities, and this didn’t score enough points to be resurfaced. (We haven’t received an answer to our request for information about the scoring system.)

We’ve also tried various ways of raising the suggestion of pre-printed postcards, to simplify the process of reporting problems. But this idea has not been met with any enthusiasm by the Council officers we have spoken to in the past, to say the least.

Reporting various problems

Road and pavement maintenance :

Cambridge (and Fulbourn!) phone458260

South of Cambridge phone833717

North of Cambridge phone(01353) 667826

(report exact location using, for example, house or lamp-post number)

Postcard for reporting problems

Street lighting and traffic signal faults :

Cambridgeshire phone0800 253529
(report post number, streetname and town/village)

Police and traffic wardens :


Postcard for reporting illegal parking

So, how is your average Cambridgeshire cyclist (or pedestrian, for that matter) supposed to know how to report a bone-juddering problem? Well, we’ve finally decided to grasp the nettle, and produce our own postcards to simplify reporting of maintenance-related problems. We’ve met two officers from the City Council’s maintenance department to review the design, and to make sure that it contains exactly the information they need.

If you are reading the printed version of this Newsletter, you should have found some postcards inserted. You can also find a copy on our web site – for you to print yourself – and copies can also be collected from our Saturday stall.

There are actually two designs of card. One half is for posting reports to the City Council. The other is for keeping a record of any problems reported by phone.

It’s just possible that these postcards might eventually become redundant, for two reasons.

Firstly, councils all over the country are conducting a time-consuming process called ‘Best Value Review’. This looks at existing services from a standpoint of ‘best value’, rather than ‘cheapness’. We’ve heard several mentions in Cambridgeshire recently of a desire to improve ‘customer care’ and similar phrases, all driven by the Best Value Review. Apparently it’s a bit of a waste of staff time to have people answering misdirected queries, not to mention the frustration it can cause to Joe and Joanna Public. There seems to be a distinct possibility that a centralised system might be created for reporting problems in Cambridgeshire, though no timescales have been publicised.

Secondly, a recent County Council press release announced that the council has received a lump sum windfall of a few hundred thousand pounds for road maintenance. Since 1996, there has been a policy of ‘minimum maintenance’ on certain county roads (lightly trafficked rural roads and urban culs de sacs). With recent increases in funding, that policy has now been reversed.

Please, if you think that a road maintenance problem is causing a problem or hazard, do report it! That’s the only way things are going to get fixed.

Clare Macrae