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Roads to ruin: the problem of potholes

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CTC Campaigns and Policy Coordinator Chris Peck explains why UK roads are so bad
Potholes aren't usually quite as large as this one
Potholes aren't usually quite as large as this one

Stuck with the tar pits

Repairs on minor roads are often (literally!) slapdash.  Uneven hand-laid reinstatements following utility works not only lead to potholes forming in the weakened road, it also means bumpy, uncomfortable and dangerous surfaces for cycling. Incorrect laying of materials at the wrong time of year or at the wrong temperature can result in premature failure of the surface.

It gets even worse on off-road. While some cycle paths are built and maintained to a high standard, a rather more common scenario is the narrow, undulating pavement conversion over which vegetation has steadily encroached. In places where cycling is treated as a high priority – for example, the Netherlands or Denmark - maintenance on cycle paths and roads used for cycling receives a higher standard of maintenance than the road network.

Professor John Parkin of London South Bank University points out that although road engineers are accustomed to providing smooth surfaces for drivers, they often don’t understand that smooth surfaces are more important for self-propelled cyclists. Rough or bumpy surfaces make cycling much harder – especially for those whose only suspension is 23 mm tyres.

With the next pothole season getting underway, local authorities (and cyclists!) will be hoping that it won’t be as cold and snowy as the last two winters. In 2010 the Government stumped up £100 million for emergency road repairs and this year they gave another £200 million. Next year such largesse is unlikely. If we are ever to get back on top of the problem a higher proportion of the billions spent each year needs to be on longer term maintenance, not on gangs roaming the road network with barrels of boiling bitumen and sacks of chippings.

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