A Worthwhile Legacy

There are enough words written already about the London Olympics and, now, about the ‘Olympic Legacy’. I’ll try and keep my bit brief.

As a nation we’re proving very good at cycling; I’ve heard punters on television talk about this being a great time for cycling and cyclists. When riding today, what I wanted to hear about is a legacy goal that would be meaningful for all cyclists whatever their motivation, age or ability. I wanted to hear of someone taking up the cudgels for applying a decent national standard to road repairs and maintenance.

Reality? Reality is that no-one will take up that fight because it’s not glamorous. The cretinocracy we live in has promoted ‘leaders’ who only do ‘sexy’. The chance of anyone high profile, with power, fighting for something as basic as a decent standard of road mending is nigh on impossible. It is easier to imagine little Martians cleaning the lens of the camera on the Curiosity Mars rover than it is Lord Coe using the momentum of the games and his new role as ‘legacy ambassador’ (whatever that might be) to achieve something meaningful, that will help people other than elite athletes.

Away from the glitz, what’s happening is depressingly criminal in the amount of money being wasted. Councils, private contractors and anyone else with the power/responsibility to dig up and/or mend roads need to be held to account. It is that simple.

Out today, thinking this, I stopped along a lane and took some pictures (below). I didn’t have to hunt to find examples – this was just where I happened to think of taking photos. Looking at them now, here are a few draft regulations, made up as I write:

  • The surface of any road works must be within 5mm of the adjacent road surface, measured six weeks after the repair was carried out to let it settle.
  • The edges of any road works must be sealed with a liquid tar to make it waterproof.
  • The practice of smearing tar and stones over a road surface without it having been properly mended first must end.
  • There needs to be a national standard of road repair, not a council-by-council patchwork of varying quality.
  • Whatever the minimum size hole currently is (bigger than which they have to repair it) needs to be reassessed so that it reflects the needs of cyclists.

And so on and so on and so on. As it is, a depressingly high proportion of those responsible for digging up/mending the roads are trashing the national infrastructure and getting away with it.

It’s not an argument about cycling that has to happen. This could be about the health of the nation. If that’s not good enough, then focus instead on the need to safeguard future generations by reducing greenhouse gasses. If that doesn’t ring your bell, then try the cost-savings to industry by reducing congestion by dint of having more cyclists and fewer cars. Or reducing costs to industry by having healthier workers. Or reducing the costs of local government by having more cyclists and fewer vehicles on the road and thus less wear-and-tear on the roads themselves. And so on and so on and so on.

For funding all this, the lesson from HS1* should be applied to HS2** and the plug pulled on the latter now – before the pockets of any more lawyers, consultants or other leeches are lined. Everything else aside, more people would benefit from diverting the money to decent national road surfaces than will ever gain from the HS2 new rail link, even if the forecasting isn’t blindly optimistic.

Roads. Ugh. How boring. It’s all so worthy and dull. What’s daft is that if a big league politician took up that fight for real and delivered on it, they and their party would win more votes than they can possibly imagine. They’d also be doing real good for real people.

But as we all know, politicians with brains, bottle or vision are in horribly short supply. Politicians in the pockets of the road transport lobby or the oil industry or any other of the big hitters in the current status quo … they’re two a penny.

Please, someone, prove me wrong.

* http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18733308
** http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-18968932

The same problem in the road, mended four times.

This is the same problem mended (at least) four times. The joins aren’t sealed so it will be a falling apart again shortly. You might as well just burn a few hundred quid – perhaps have a ceremony on market days in town centres: “Look, this is how much we’re wasting this week”. Whoever’s doing the mending must struggle to not laugh all the way to the bank.

A fresh hole in a road at the site of an old problem

A new hole appearing along the line of a previous mend. The sun comes up. The sun goes down. The previous mend wasn’t sealed so water gets in. A new hole appears. Heaven forfend that someone might do a job properly.

Smearing tar and gravel on a road achieves nothing for any road user

Take a road in need of repair. Don’t bother to repair it, just waste a load of public money smearing tar and gravel over it. It won’t last a few months. It will be difficult to cycle on and it will mask problem holes, thus making it dangerous too. It won’t even be safe for motorists as that sort of surface offers poor traction. Never mind, some quota’s been filled, some box ticked, some bonus earned somewhere.