Thursday 1 November 2012

Avoiding potholes

Slight puddle before.
could get worse over winter
I've mentioned before that Dutch roads and cycle-paths don't often suffer from potholes. There's currently a patch of slightly rough surface between our home and the local shops, but that's as bad as it gets. I can't think of any actual potholes on any roads or cycle-paths that we use.

The reason, of course, is that standards of maintenance are very good.

A one metre wide part dug out to the depth of 4 cm over the
crack, two metres square over the depression. After digging,
this was sealed before filling.
A good example of this happened this week on a residential street near where we live. It's not a through route by car, but it is by bike and I ride there quite frequently as it's on the route to the post office. This street had a crack all the way across its surface which recently became noticeable by bike. There was also a growing depression which started to form a puddle. None of this was unpleasant to cycle over, and it was certainly not something you'd swerve to miss. In any case, there are almost never cars on this street, so the situation was never dangerous. However, if this had been left as we go into winter then ice would have formed in it and made the problem worse. Therefore it was fixed as you can see in this video:

Potholes are hazardous for all road users, but they are particularly dangerous for cyclists because of their potential to cause a crash should you ride through them and the need to swerve to avoid them.

It is better if problems with potholes are avoided by fixing the potholes than by expecting people to cycle around them, especially on busy roads.

A footnote to the blog: Is there any end to people thinking that I want to do their work for them for nothing ? Now Transport for London expects me to work for free.


Anonymous said...

It also looks as if the edge of the repair has been sealed with tar, something that (in my experience) rarely happens with UK road repairs of this kind. Typically this means that within a couple of years the repair has become the site of several new potholes, because the unsealed join is an ideal place for water to collect and accelerate the rate of wear. Very short-sighted.


Anonymous said...

Living in the middle of The Netherlands my experience is that road damages are repaired in 2-3 working days. My local municipality has a website where you can report an issue including a possibility to upload a picture. The fact that they are very responsive also probably has a lot to do with the legal situation. The governmental body responsible for road maintenance (wegbeheerder) is in principal liable for personal and goods damage due to the condition of the road.

Dennis Hindman said...

Streets in most areas of the U.S. have been deteriorating for decades from inadequate funding.

New York City:

6,400 miles of streets
418,000 potholes filled in 2011

Los Angeles:

6,500 miles of streets
300,000 potholes filled in 2011


4,000 miles of streets
350,000 potholes filled in 2012

LA grades streets from A to F and practices a kind of triage, getting more quickly to the ones that can be "saved" with less repair and taking longer to start work on streets that need costlier, more labor-intensive care. In a 2011 State of the Streets report, a quarter of streets got an F. The average is a dismal C. Street Services officials blame it on years of funding shortfalls for street maintenance that go back to the 1990s.

This year, $91 million will go to street resurfacing and reconstruction and $21.5 million to maintenance and repair, including potholes. That's less than 2/3 what the Dutch spend per capita for bicycling.

There is a ray of hope, at least for LA. Next week, voters in LA county will decide whether to vote for Measure J, which would extend--for an additional thirty years--a thirty year half-cent sales tax that was passed in 2008 which is used for road and transit construction. The idea is to speed up these installations by issuing bonds guaranteed by these future sales taxes. A side benefit is that each of the 88 cities in the county get 15%--by population--of the sales tax to use for local transportation issues such as street resurfacing, sidewalks repairs and bicycling.

LA estimated that it would cost $2.63 billion over ten years to get the streets up to a average B grade level and at least $1.5 billion for sidewalk repairs. Over the 60 year life of Measure J, the anticipated 15% share for Los Angeles would be about $7.41 billion. That should be enough to issue bonds that would create enough funds to do all of the needed $4.13 billion in street resurfacing and sidewalk repairs. This would also reduce the street maintenance costs and lower payouts for trip and fall incidents.

Plus, as the primary streets are resurfaced, bike lanes can be put in when the streets are restriped instead of sand blasting off the old lane markings and striping the bike lanes using overtime on the weekends as the city is doing now. This would save both time and money for installing bike lanes.

Bike lanes are not nearly as safe or have as low a stress for cycling compared to bike paths along primary streets, but they do give territory over to cyclists that was not there before. So, its a small step in the right direction which has been proven to increase the cycling rate.

A key point that NYC transportation commissioner Janet Sadek-Khan pointed out is its important to act quickly when there is opportunity to make improvements. She took territory away from vehicles and gave it to pedestrians in Times Square by simply installing granite blocks, putting down some paint and buying folding chairs for businesses to take care of. The city also painted in additional territory for pedestrians on the street between the sidewalk and the protected bike lanes.

As a LA bicycle advocate pointed out to me; you can go back later and put in protected lanes after you have gotten the territory and higher cycling rate with unprotected bike lanes. It's quite different when you are trying to convince politicians and the populous to take territory away from motorized vehicles and put significant amounts of money into infrastructure for a bicycling rate that is bordering on extinction. Some paint on the streets for bike lanes and bicycle sharing are progressive steps towards raising the cycling rate, which in turn will raise support after people see the positive results.

Hurricane Sandy halted subway service in NYC, but for many of the one-third of the population that own a bike, this became the fastest mode of travel.

NYC will also begin installing a 10,000 bicycle share system starting next spring which will entice tens of thousands more people to try cycling without having to buy a bicycle first.

Anonymous said...

How does this fit with the "resurfacing whole roads occasionally is cheaper than patching-up potholes regularly" idea?

Anonymous said...

Two years ago the off road cycle path across Clapham Common in South London was resurfaced. It was done so badly that it's actually concave in places - there were numerous puddles much larger than that along it's length and immediately after rain it has a complete covering.

I complained as was told nothing could be done as it was 'within tolerence'. Of course in winter it's like an ice rink.

The difference in approach beggars belief.

highwayman said...

I usually am very passionate in protecting local autonomy, but the problem with this is that politicians at town level, in order to keep local taxes low, will cut the easiest target in their budget: roads & sewers.

Maybe it's just me, but the check on the locally elected municipal council in the Netherlands is a Mayor appointed by the Minister of the Interior. A side benefit seems to be less small-town parochialism as well.

If there are any salient details of local governance in the Netherlands that I've missed, please correct and inform me.

Alexa said...

Part of the reason there are fewer potholes to begin with is that the cycle paths are not generally traveled by cars. With an on-road bike lane, you get all the car damage and little of the benefit. The heavier the vehicle, the worse the damage inflicted. It's just good practice to keep the vehicles separated. I love that the Netherlands does this right down to trash collection. Having to bring your garbage to a central location encourages resource conservation, too. It's all connected and you do it so well there. It's said that in the US the weekly garbage pick-up does more damage to the road surfaces than all the car traffic combined.

Frits B said...

@highwayman: The "external" mayor was created in the 1848 constitution, the Thorbecke system. Thorbecke gave local government much autonomy but installed a chairman appointed by a higher authority. Originally a mayor applied for a post directly to the minister of the Interior and towns had to accept what they got. Nowadays a mayor sends an application to the (locally elected) town council which then selects a candidate for appointment by the minister. There have been calls for direct election of the mayor for decades as several political parties consider this more democratic.

Tim said...

I see Alexa has already made the point that occurred to me.

I regularly cycle on Manchester's "Oxford Road Corridor". A couple of relatively flat miles between the two largest Universities in the UK, and the halls of residence which service them.

Unfortunately the road is also frequently described as "the busiest bus route in Europe". I'm not sure if this is true, but it does mean that as well as having to dodge buses in shared bus/bike lanes, cyclists end up riding on roads which never really recover from the ongoing devastation resulting from the heavy loads. Double whammy. Unsurprisingly, there are not many cyclists considering how many there could be.

David Hembrow said...

Alexa, Tim, it's quite true that cycle-paths develop pot-holes slower than roads, but they still deteriorate due to tree roots and freezing conditions and that still also requires work. This work gets done, of course.

This, however, is a pothole on a residential street, not on a cycle-path.

Streets and roads in the Netherlands are also almost completely free of potholes. I literally don't know of any potholes in this city either on cycle-paths or roads. If they start to appear then they are fixed, just as in this example.

BTW, Alexa, we don't have to take our garbage to a central place. I think that's another of those myths that people believe about the Netherlands. What actually happens is that it is collected from the kerbside by a truck with a robotic arm. It surprised me so much when we first moved here that I made a video of it. The Netherlands has the highest rate of post consumer waste recycling in the world.

Tim said...

I have no doubt that weather and other environmental considerations will cause damage anywhere, and I have no trouble believing that the Dutch are more efficient at effecting repairs than we are in the UK.

But it still beggars belief to me that anyone would consider it reasonable for cyclists to share the same surface that has one bus along it every thirty seconds (in each direction - ). I'm pretty sure (from this blog) that it just wouldn't happen in the Netherlands. Council engineers have informed me that the road damage is directly due to the heavy bus traffic.

And I wanted a whinge. ;)