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Former Cambridge council leader issues pothole warning after bike crash

A former council leader is calling for answers over how pothole funding is allocated after he was seriously injured coming off his bike.

Lewis Herbert was cycling in the dark across Cutter Ferry bridge on April 21 when he hit the pothole.

Pothole warning after bike crash leaves Lewis Herbert with broken bones Picture: Keith Heppell
Pothole warning after bike crash leaves Lewis Herbert with broken bones Picture: Keith Heppell

The former Cambridge City Council leader suffered a broken collarbone, shoulder and facial fractures and spent four days in Addenbrooke’s Hospital – and months more recovering.

Mr Herbert says many of the city’s roads are collapsing and the worst of the winter is yet to set in.

“What will they be like in April next year?” he said.

The former councillor asked Cambridgeshire County Council yesterday (Tuesday, December 12) to share “how effectively and quickly” it will tackle holes on roads “heavily used by local cyclists, motor bikes and vulnerable pedestrians”.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent, Mr Herbert pointed out that Cambridge suffers from “much heavier and different usage”.

“If you go around Cambridge, you can see the number of roads that have been dug up at any one time as a result of the amount of wear and tear because we’ve got thousands of cars and thousands of cyclists every day,” he said.

Cambridge has the highest rates of cycling in the UK and its pavements are heavily used by older residents and those with limited mobility/visibility.

Mr Herbert said: “The central issue for me is I don’t think that the highways team takes the risks to cyclists fully into account when they have reports.

“There’s just a different level of danger to cyclists, which is mainly in Cambridge because there’s just a huge number of people cycling and often cycling in the dark with inadequate street lighting.”

As a former council leader, Mr Herbert understands that councils have been “starved of cash” but wants to know what the highways authority is doing to allocate the money it does have to spend.

“How is the policy working so that cyclists and motorcyclists in Cambridge are not at risk of coming off and having a nasty accident?” he said.

The ‘rut’ that caused Mr Herbert’s accident was first reported in October 2022 before being reported again in February 2023, he said.

Speaking at yesterday’s (Tuesday) meeting Cllr Alex Beckett, chair of the council’s highways and transport committee, said the authority is looking at the maintenance of Cambridgeshire’s active travel routes.

He said: “One of the things we’re looking at doing is building an active travel hierarchy, which looks at how we can make sure that we are deploying resources to fix potholes where they have the biggest safety impact and recognising that cycle desire lines can have a very different impact compared to road users.

“This council is also putting together one of the biggest investments in highways maintenance that we’ve seen for a very long time. We have recognised that there has been decades of underinvestment in highways maintenance and that has seen a lot of the poor standards that we currently have on our roads – it’s clear to me that we do need significant amounts of investment in that.”

Mr Herbert referred to a case in Lancashire where a 84-year-old cyclist died after hitting a pothole that had been visible for 14 years.

“The local highways inspectors said at the inquest in October, and I quote, ‘they’d been instructed to focus on holes posing a risk to four-wheeled vehicles’. What assurance can Cllr Beckett give to Cambridgeshire cyclists, bikers and pedestrians that the council and our highways inspectors will at all times give totally equal safety focus to all users and see the small ruts as well as the big potholes and not only be fixated on the needs of car drivers?” he said.

Cllr Beckett added: “We have previously seen our maintenance hierarchy be focused on those on four wheels, and not necessarily understand the impact that it can have different types of defects on those on two wheels. That’s, as I mentioned earlier, one of the big pieces of work that we’re doing now is looking at our intervention criteria and how they can apply to cycle desire lines and pedestrians.”

Camcycle is calling on the county council to change the criteria for pothole repair and road maintenance to tackle the issues that cause danger to people walking and cycling, as well as prioritising routes for repair based on the cycling network and the routes with the highest volumes of cycle traffic. The group is also calling on the council to improve the efficiency and quality of pothole repairs.

Camcycle CEO Roxanne De Beaux said: “It is deeply wrong that the users who cause the least damage to our roads face the greatest risks from the poor conditions and are prioritised last when it comes to maintenance.

“Cambridgeshire should be leading the nation in keeping our roads safe for people walking and cycling, and improvements to our maintenance policies cannot come fast enough. However, the backlog of issues is very long, and we need to know how these repairs will be funded. The recent government announcement of £4.1m of potholes funding for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority should provide the perfect opportunity to make our roads safe for all users. ”

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