Sarah McMonagle, Cycling UK’s director of external affairs, succinctly captures the gravity of the situation, stating, “While car users might face an expensive trip to the garage after plunging into a pothole, people who cycle run the risk of death or life-changing injuries.”
Indeed, this has been backed by research conducted by automotive engineering analyst Kara Laing. In her computer simulated model, Kara found that “Rolling out of a pothole is significantly more risky for cyclists than motorists.” In the model, bumping a 50mm curb in a car generated a g-force of about 5g of upward acceleration into the vehicle - the same force generated for a road bike going up only a 20mm curb.
This risk is heightened further for e-scooter riders. Research from Imperial College Londonhas highlighted the need for “better pothole management from local authorities if e-scooters are to become commonplace on roads,” due to the heightened risk of head injury that can result from an e-scooter crash.
It is clear that tackling the issue of potholes is key to increasing rates of cycling. As Caroline Julian, External Affairs Director at British Cycling states, “If we’re serious about fulfilling our ambitions to get more people cycling, we simply must ensure that our roads are safe and comfortable for them to ride on, and not the crater-filled carriageways they currently face.”
Government Initiatives and Increased Funding
Last month, the UK’s transport secretary made a groundbreaking announcement, revealing a substantial £235 million plan to maintain London's roads over the next 11 years. This investment, touted as the largest ever in road repairs and improvements, aims to enhance journey times and potentially save motorists up to £440 in vehicle repairs caused by potholes.
While the funding represents a significant step forward, it is crucial to ensure its effective utilisation, and to consider cyclists and pedestrians in maintenance plans too. By adopting data-driven strategies, it is possible to identify areas most in need of attention to support active travel, ensuring targeted investments that address specific concerns.
As stressed by LCRIG director and government adviser Paula Claytonsmith, a shift of perspective may be needed here that involves considering the perspectives of cyclists and pedestrians in maintenance plans. On asset management, Paula Claytonsmith noted: "I think maintenance and asset management plans have been geared up from a road user perspective and most people would say there does need to be a change in perception to thinking about things from a cyclist and walking perspective."
Empowering the Cycling Community
Innovative technology is also playing a pivotal role in empowering cyclists to contribute actively to road safety. Here at See.Sense, we enable users of our app to report potholes during their rides. With 120,000+ lights sold to date, this creates a sizable community of mobile monitors.
The See.Sense app allows cyclists not only to highlight potholes but also to log close passes, collisions, and make requests for cycling infrastructure improvements, fostering a collaborative approach to road safety.
Indeed, from our analysis in Oxford, we revealed that potholes were actually the single most reported issue reported amongst See.Sense cyclists in the city, making up 32% of all reported incidents. One cyclist highlighted that a “massive pothole” in Oxford High Street could “cause serious harm to motorcyclists or cyclists if not dealt with.”
Our telemetry insights can also detect road surface anomalies before potholes occur, as well as detecting cyclists taking action to swerve around potholes, meaning that See.Sense cyclists do not need to ride any differently from usual to flag potholes and road surface problems.
This data is used in See.Sense’s work with local authorities and cities, providing valuable insight that helps to create safer conditions for cycling.
Preventative Maintenance as a Solution
Beyond reactive measures, preventative road maintenance is also crucial to combating the safety issues caused by potholes.
Indeed, our data’s effectiveness has been verified by both the University of Hasselt and engineering firm AECOM, with the latter concluding that See.Sense “data is useful to identify maintenance priorities” and “understand a cities cycle network in terms of pavement condition.”
This data-driven approach allows for prioritised highway maintenance based on actual need. By identifying potential issues before they escalate, targeted preventative maintenance becomes possible, ensuring maximum return on investment and significant cost savings.
The integration of technology into road maintenance strategies is an important step towards creating safer and more efficient roadways, as well as more accessible roads for all.
If we shift our mindsets to view potholes as a threat to cycling and active travel accessibility that must be taken seriously - and consequently as a threat to achieving both our vision zero and climate goals - rather than viewing potholes as a nuisance to drivers, we can make progress towards our goals of encouraging active travel for all.
Ultimately, while potholes are set to remain an issue in the years to come, it is clear that collaboration and technology are key to addressing the problem.
To find out how See.Sense technology and data services can help with your infrastructure and road safety projects, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and a member of our team will be in touch.
'LET'S TALK CITIES' NEWSLETTER
Join our monthly 'Let's Talk Cities' newsletter, aimed at city officials, planners and active travel specialists that contains a curated list of articles at the intersection of micro-mobility, tech and data, and how cities are transforming to improve conditions for sustainable travel.