Danger for Cyclists: Potholes and Bumpy Roads

John Leech says he has come off his bike in nearly every postcode in Dublin.

It’s not that he is accident prone, he says. It’s just that the potholes and uneven surfaces are so widespread that they can’t be avoided.

One fall left him with serious ligament damage and in need of physiotherapy, he said.

Leech, a producer and vocalist with the band Siam Collective, says he hasn’t even been cycling in the city that long. “I lived in Dublin for years and years and didn’t cycle because I thought it looked awfully dangerous,” he says.

Six cyclists have logged accidents on our cycle-collision tracker that mention potholes or uneven surfaces, and another cyclist mentioned cobblestones.

Near James’ Hospital

Leech used to live near St James’ Hospital, where lots of potholes and multiple uneven and broken road surfaces would cause him trouble, he said. He crashed where the cycle track crosses the Luas line, just after its St James’ stop, on the city centre side.

Another cyclist, Rebecca Kelleher, says she also had an accident on that exact same spot where the cycle lane crosses the tracks at St James’ Hospital (below). The problem was the uneven road surface, rather than the tracks, she says.

“My front wheel got caught in a groove in the road and I just came flying over the handle bars,” says Kelleher.

She got away with scratches and grazes, and counts herself very lucky. “It is dangerous because it’s a busy road with cars and all that,” she says.

Says Leech: “I think there is a certain dimension of pothole that is going to damage a car that will be fixed, but if it’s going to topple someone off a bike it’s just not as high a priority.”

The State of the Road

While there are periodic reports of personal injury claims against Dublin City Council from pedestrians who have fallen on uneven pavements, it seems rarer to hear claims by cyclists.

Annette Regan of the Road Safety Authority said that 2013 is the latest year for which data is currently available.

“Between 2009 and 2013 there were 2,430 collisions in which a cyclist sustained a casualty – minor, serious and fatal – in a road collision,” says Regan. (Cyclist collisions are likely under-reported.)

“Road factors” were cited as a possible contributory factor in 3.7 percent of those cases, she says. This category can include issues such as surface evenness, lighting, road markings, and road signs.

“However, out of the 3.7 percent of cases included, none recorded surface evenness as a factor,” says Regan.

But June O’Neill, a solicitor with Tiernan & Co. Solicitors, who specialises in personal-injury cases, says she has seen cases of cyclists being injured due to the condition of the road.

And cyclists who incur an injury due to the condition of the road can make a claim against the local authority, says O’Neill.

“Such cases are potentially actionable,” she says, adding that “we have had a few such claims”.

This might be because cyclists don’t know they can take a case for free, says O’Neill. “People may think they would incur legal costs to take a case, but in fact a lot of firms would take these cases on a no-win-no-fee basis,” she said.

Leech didn’t file a claim against the local authority, when he had to do physiotherapy following one of his many accidents. “I had no idea you could sue. I don’t suppose you could do it retroactively,” he says.

Dublin City Council Press Office didn’t get back to queries about how many cyclists had claimed from them in 2015, due to poor road conditions, and what the council does to ensure that cycle tracks and roads are safe for cyclists.

But independent Councillor Ruairi McGinley, who is head of the council’s finance committee says the budget for road maintenance is €30 million for 2017, up from €29 million in 2016.

Cycling in the City

Like Leech, Aleksandra Kokon says she has had multiple accidents while cycling in the city.

In the autumn of 2015, on the cycle track from Finglas to the city centre, near Baleskin, she slipped on leaves and fell off her bike.

In 2016, nearby, on the same path, she almost came off her bike when she didn’t notice a pothole covered in leaves.

After these two incidents, she made some changes. “I stopped cycling on that path when the leaves were present and moved to the bus lane, which is for cyclists as well, but it is technically less safe because of vehicles passing the cyclist.”

Kokon is cautious now. She says that if it’s dark, she won’t cycle in areas she doesn’t know, for fear of potholes. “I’m really careful. I watch out, and I know where all the holes are in my area.”

The edges of the roads are usually in a very bad state, she said. “Also, a lot of road has tarmac, but the edge is concrete, and usually there are cracks between the tarmac and the concrete so you have to cycle more towards the centre of the road.”

Another of Leech’s accidents, this time on Portland Row, was down to the poor condition of the road surface, he says. “That was actually a massive pothole, it was gigantic,” says Leech.

It was a wet night, and Leech says he veered slightly out of the cycle lane to avoid puddles, as there were no cars coming.

“I thought the surface on the road was more even. Next thing, the wheel just ground to a halt,” he says “It was like something out of a cartoon, and I just went flying over the handlebars.”

The Cobblestones

Of all Leech’s many accidents, the most serious one happened while he was cycling on the cobblestones in Temple Bar on a wet day.

He was new to cycling in the city at the time, and that inexperience may have been a factor in that accident, he says.

“I took the brunt of it on the elbow and had a couple of little batterings. At the time, I didn’t think it was anything serious,” he says

“But when I woke up the next day I was in agony, and then I thought that I must have broken it in a few different places.”

It turned out to be ligament-tissue damage, and Leech had to have extensive physiotherapy to regain the full use of his arm.

The authorities should “either ban cycling down there or put in cycle lanes”, says Leech. (That’s something the council is looking at, in its planned redesign of Temple Bar’s streets.)

In Temple Bar, it’s obvious to most that you are doomed to cycle on cobblestones if you try to cut through the neighbourhood. But what if you suddenly found yourself cycling on cobblestones when you were not expecting it?

Take Erne Street Lower and Hanover Street, which suddenly turn from tarmac to cobblestone in the middle of the junction.

Fine Gael Councillor Paddy McCartan says that in December one of his constituents contacted him to say he’d been travelling at a reasonable speed down Erne Street Lower, and turning right into Hanover Street, when he crashed on the wet cobblestones.

McCartan says the cyclist sprained his wrist and took a bang to the head.

“It did leave me to wonder why on earth is there a square of cobbles in the middle of a junction for four tarmaced roads,” the cyclist said in the email to McCartan.

“Given the extent of the traffic on this road and how slippery the cobbles seemed this morning, I would think it in the interest to public safety that the junction surface be replaced with something less hazardous.”

McCartan put in a question to council officials, querying the safety of a tarmac road that suddenly becomes cobblestone.

The reply said that the cobblestones (or “stone setts”) are the only remaining part of the original road surface – so it’s important to keep them.

“Current statutory guidance promotes the retention and repair of these historic surfaces which contribute to the architectural character of their areas,” the response said.

It added that the cobblestones can also act as a traffic calming measure.

McCartan said that his constituent was not satisfied with the response from the council, and wrote to them again about the issue.

Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at laoiseneylon@gmail.com.

Reader responses

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Hannah
at 15 February 2017 at 10:06

The road surface at Dolphin’s Barn was very poor and often made me nervous, although the road is currently being resurfaced so perhaps that problem will be solved.

Uneven surfaces are dangerous, but they’re also uncomfortable and a hassle to cycle on – they cause you to have to break, swerve, and lose speed so that your journey feels like a chore. Cycling on designated lanes with a good quality surface is a dream in comparison!

dave
at 15 February 2017 at 15:23

Just as bad are the ‘Tarmac Mountains’ – tall lumps of tarmac thrown in a pothole and left to sit for years. There’s a massive lump on the bottom of Aungier Street near Govinda’s that has been there for decades at this stage, and forces you into the traffic.

BTW don’t forget all the glass in the cycle lanes as well on certain stretches – Camden Street, Lesson Street etc., – again they force you into traffic. I stopped using my own bike after I got so many flat tires trying to cycle in central Dublin and just use the Dublin bikes now.

Dublin is tiny – it should be a doddle for DCC to take a spin around the city every few months – but I genuinely think they never do it at all.

But it has to be said foot paths in Dublin are in a far worse stage at this stage – obvious giant corners of stone are taken out stone work all over the city, with people tripping over them. Again – let sit for months if not years. One in front of the Stella cinema has been there for a year or two at least.

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