Following today’s announcement that £8.3 billion of redirected HS2 funding will be spent on resurfacing and repairing over 5,000 miles of road in England – an investment Rishi Sunak and transport secretary Mark Harper say will alleviate “misery” for motorists and save drivers up to £440 in vehicle repairs – Cycling UK has called on the government not to ignore people on bikes by updating its road maintenance guidance to ensure potholes which kill or injure cyclists are also fixed.
In the past seven years, at least 255 people have been killed or seriously injured in the UK while riding bikes due to defects in the road surface, with many dangerous potholes – such as the one that killed 84-year-old cyclist Harry Colledge in January – previously known to local authorities or ignored due to a focus by highway engineers on defects that would damage motor vehicles.
Mr Colledge, a “much-loved” cyclist and retired music teacher, was cycling on a rural road with friend Nigel Mycock near the Lancashire village of Winmarleigh on Monday 2 January when the front wheel of his Claud Butler bike got stuck in a six inch-deep crack in the road, throwing him off and causing fatal brain injuries.
In October we reported that an inquest into the cyclist’s death found that Lancashire County Council was sent numerous photographs of the crack in the road – which had been visible on Google Maps since 2009 – in the months before the fatal crash and, despite plants growing in it, failed to find the pothole on two occasions.
A council worker who inspected the road also conceded that the pothole – described during the inquest as a “trench” – was missed during an inspection because the “primary focus” was to identify “dangers to cars”, not cyclists.
In a statement released today following the government’s announcement, Cycling UK welcomed the increased funding for road repairs, but also called for the guidance for highway engineers to be updated to help reduce the risk of death and serious injury for cyclists like Mr Colledge.
The active travel charity has urged the UK Roads Leadership Group, the body responsible for creating the guidance provided to road traffic engineers across the UK, to make sure this guidance no longer ignores road defects that impact people on bikes.
When the guidance was last updated in 2016, Cycling UK says the group ignored its evidence calling for an update – an oversight the charity says could have led to “many deaths and serious injuries since then [being] avoided if the group had listened”.
“The current procedures for inspecting roads and paths, and then deciding which repairs are necessary, overlook the safety needs for people cycling,” Cycling UK says.
“This means cracks and other defects which specially affect the narrower tyres of bicycles are not always considered suitable for fixing, despite their increased risk of causing death or serious injury.”
Speaking to Cycling UK, Mr Colledge’s widow Val said the “odds have been stacked against people who cycle for too long”.
“More and more people are being encouraged to cycle and it is promoted as being a healthy, environmentally friendly form of transport and leisure activity,” she said.
“However, the state of our roads is unacceptable and especially the country lanes preferred by cyclists.”
Sarah Mitchell, Cycling UK’s chief executive, added: “Britain’s pothole crisis costs lives. Let’s put right past mistakes and make sure no family ever has to receive a phone call to say that the failure to fill a pothole has ended a loved one’s life.
“We applaud the government for providing long-term funding for councils in England to fix our crumbling roads but are urging Ministers to ensure that that money is well spent.
“It’s not expensive or difficult to update the guidance for our traffic engineers to save lives and prevent tragedies like that which Val and her family have had to go through.
“Seven years ago, Cycling UK called on the UK Roads Leadership Group to update guidance for traffic engineers. Unfortunately our warnings went unheeded and since then nearly one person a week has been killed or seriously injured because they chose to ride a bike on Britain’s roads.”
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.