Car News: Pothole Paradise

Your weekly guide to all that’s rotten in the auto industry, plus some good bits


A worm’s eye view of an Edinburgh pot hole

A few unkind words on the state of Edinburgh’s roads…

Why is it our capital city has a policy of deferred road maintenance, and yet we line up to vote for political parties who believe in  keeping Scotland’s taxes for roads not in Scotland?

How deep is a pothole to be a pothole?

Not so long ago I smashed a headlight by hitting a pothole at all of 10 mph. I can guarantee that speed is not exaggerated because I turned in off Princes Street in Edinburgh to the next set of traffic lights at the corner of Charlotte Square, a short dog-leg that can only be negotiated at low-speed.

It was late at night, dark, raining, and gloomy. The pothole looked like any puddle reflecting street light, only the sodding thing was cavernous, over half-a-metre deep and the same in circumference. In fact, the pothole might well have had its own pothole.

The headlight popped out instantly. I cursed the council before remembering that our overlords in London have us paying billions for Trident, and wars in poor regions of the world against impoverished people, potholes being of little importance. Our Road Tax increases year by year with no sign of any part of it spent on roads.

I couldn’t face suing the council but I should have. The headlight was an American upgrade, no replacement available here. Too lengthy and too costly to import, I was forced to replace it with a single headlight, and junk the good twin headlight for a matching single. Result, a cost of £180, and steam coming out my ears at our inability to teach our councillors to get a grip on life.

It seems to me the council has adopted the attitude it’s cheaper to pay up on court claims than give citizens smooth road surfaces, in the same way, US car giants won’t make their cars safer but instead allow claims for death and injury paid as a cheaper cost.

Cyclists take tumbles, skint elbows and knees, and broken bones too, their woes added to by slippery tram lines. At least one cyclist was killed somersaulting over a pothole. It happened in Giggleswick, North Yorkshire. Died? How can that happen? Not wearing a helmet? No. He got thrown into the path of an oncoming car. His widow is suing.

New-laid roads.

What bliss. Such moments of pure unalloyed joy come as a relief to the daily stresses of driving in a car-hating city. Sometimes I will double back to take a flat stretch a second time – but those moments are few and fleeting, discovering dead flat tarmac the equivalent of drinking from clean glasses in a low-end pub.

The other ninety per cent of roads and side streets are a misery of washboard ripples, cracks and fissures, packing-absent, teeth rattling set stones, jagged multi-surface layered junctions, cable runs badly resurfaced, dug up again and badly resurfaced again, loose gravel, bottomless potholes, tacks, nails and screws strewn about by  inconsiderate roofers and joiners, and the ubiquitous stray cone.

The destruction of symmetry

Add to that the council’s grossly inept late-seventies attempt at traffic control by altering pavement lines that don’t follow the line of the buildings, and their propensity to block off entire streets that force detours. We know drivers we are being comprehensively screwed by the authorities. 20 mph limits will soon get stamped on inner district streets, but not as a way of giving drivers enough time to take evasive action!

The other casualty is our car’s suspension, ball joints, gas struts, wishbone elements, and crown fixings. Tyres must get a hammering too – hence the popularity for driving massive SUV and 4×4 with tyres the size and weight of a miller’s grinding stone, vehicles that never see mud or track in their working existence. Still, if you are willing to pay a third more than a station wagon, (shooting brake) for an SUV with less interior space, but a horse rider’s view of the road, you deserve to get cheated out of your savings.

Edinburgh, twinned with Aleppo

Edinburgh has roads that remind one of bombed areas of the Middle-East, and its bill to pay for accident damage and personal injury must be massive, but I can only see things are getting worse, not better.

Thatcher’s regime stopped councils from blocking road works by private contractors. In the advent of laying Internet cables Westminster bowed to the profit margins of cable companies by giving them free access to dig. All they had to do was advise the council, purchase a permit, and get digging. If their atrociously resurfaced tracks are ever inspected by council officials for minimum acceptable standards of repair, and told to do it again, I’ll eat my greens. (The political kind.)

Perseverance pays off

A motorist who faced a hefty repairs bill after his car was damaged by a pothole won his fight for compensation. Ian Smith, of Craigleith, got the £240 pay-out only days before he was set to challenge the council’s refusal to pay for the damages in court. He says it should provide a lesson for motorists to fight council decisions if they feel they have been treated unfairly. But what a marathon – a genuine claim resisted right up-and-to the day in court.

The condition of our roads are so bad there is a  tourist guide to ‘The Potholes of Edinburgh,’ a pointer to the most interesting ones, and the historic buildings nearby. Don’t forget your camera-phone. And there’s another site advising how to sue your council for damage or injury. Is there one for suing a council to take proactive action?

Who needs cobble layers?

Edinburgh council laid off skilled set stone, cobble layers and took to covering our heritage with tarmac, an important, valuable skill thrown aside, a trade wiped out. Three years ago the council paid millions, million of pounds, to a private company to relay a few yards of experimental cobble. How clever is that?

The company worked day and night under a large concave, spotlight lit marquee, complete with barbecue table and portaloos. There might have been satellite television too. I have not seen the experiment repeated. The cost was prohibitive. Now our whin sett-stone old highways are pitted and loose. Catch your foot in between them and you risk a broken ankle or getting run down by a bus, ergo, the council hates pedestrians as well as drivers and cyclists.

Do I think Edinburgh’s Roads Department is staffed by a bunch of careless, dimwitted, couldn’t give a damn jobs worth? You tell me.

If I was a dictator I would … oh, forget it.

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15 Responses to Car News: Pothole Paradise

  1. The UK as a whole is appalling at infrastructure investment and maintenance. One minor point. The roads are maintained from general taxation, local and national. ‘Road Tax’ is a misnomer; it’s actually the Vehicle Excise Licence – car tax if you will. Nevertheless, I agree with all your observations and it’s no better in Dumfries and Galloway or Cumbria.
    Slipshod maintenance is one thing but quite another is the ever-increasing size and weight of goods and agricultural vehicles. Massive potholes and collapsing verges on rural roads can be attributed to these. The B6357 from Newcastleton down to Canonbie is a classic example where endless timber wagons driven by a horde of Stanley Baker wannabes chew a new surface to ribbons in a matter of weeks, especially in wet weather.
    A couple of years back, a friend I was driving with lost a low profile tyre to a particularly nasty wagon-related pothole on the decent into Canonbie itself.
    Of course, this kind of damage could once have been avoided by sending the timber by rail down the other side of the valley. Sadly, our narrow focus economic model saw fit to close and dismantle this route in 1969.
    Reopening for timber traffic was mooted in the 1990s but a drop in the price of timber put the kibosh on that.
    A proper assessment taking in the physical and environmental damage to the road infrastructure, noise and danger to other road users would surely swing things to a more positive position, not just here, but along for example the A75 corridor. Similarly, the warped economics of modern transport frequently has 44 ton articulated vehicles carrying out rural and urban deliveries which in a saner world would be handled by smaller wagons. This, of course, doesn’t suit the bean counters and unproductive hedge-funders who own the haulage companies and we continue to suffer congested and damaged roads as their needs have greater priority than those of the people.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    ‘Road Tax’ is a misnomer; it’s actually the Vehicle Excise Licence – car tax if you will.
    That’s true – interesting to see how much of that tax ever reaches our roads. You’re right again, ‘big rig’ trucks don’t help – were 30 tons, then 35, told 40 tons was safer and less detrimental to our roads – not to the Forth Road Bridge – and now the haulage industry and assorted paid politicians advocate 44 tons.

  3. hektorsmum says:

    Oh thank god I no longer work for the Transportation Department (Edinburgh). I got it in the neck often enough from my other half when I did. In my day we had a reasonable budget, I should say that was in the years before Thatcher, things diminished year on year after that. I too think that it would be better to stop spending money on war, what on earth are we protecting, anyone who won would run a mile if he saw what he got for his trouble, I have done a bit of travelling round Europe in recent years, both the Baltic, and Mediterranean and last year through the middle.I would suggest that our lords and masters go and take a trip round other countries, no chewing gum, okay some Cities have lots of graffiti, but the roads are a whole lot better, and you have to ask yourself why.

  4. hektorsmum says:

    ps. no longer pay VEL thank goodness.

  5. Grouse Beater says:

    Thank god I no longer work for the Transportation Department.

    Well, I never! One doesn’t know the company one keeps when using the internet. 🙂

    I agree, there was a time the department was an open-minded, civic-caring group of individuals – and I dealt with a few who helped transform the little street I lived in back then – then one by one they left or were given redundancy. Now we have people who hide behind a list of rules and regulations as to why they need do absolutely nothing about our complaints or recommendations. The most heard excuse is, we have no budget and not enough staff.

  6. bjsalba says:

    I did see a comment that another part of the Thatcher lowest bid legacy is that the tarmac used is of a lesser quality, and lesser durability.

    It was a win-win for the Tory more consumption mantra as it means more work for the road mending companies and more work for motor repairmen.

  7. Grouse Beater says:

    Tarmac used is of a lesser quality, and lesser durability.

    That might explain why so much newly laid fragments so quickly.

  8. hektorsmum says:

    My Department eventually became a minor masonic lodge, they did not even consider that their crooked ways were being seen for what they were.

  9. donald says:

    You take the high road and I’ll take the potholed road and I’ll get t’sainsbury’s before ye …..
    No that’s not right is it ?
    They say you have to take the rough with the smooth , but the smooth is rough within weeks or days if you get heavy rain. Its all contracted out to pirate enterprise these days . So the council is off the hook . Eventually we will get fined for having our car smoking in a pot hole because that’s close enough to possession and driving under the influence these days.

    ‘Your Honor I must protest ‘
    ‘Were you or were you not at the wheel at the date,place and time of the accusation ?
    ‘Yes but………’
    ‘Two thousand pound fine , five points and let that be a lesson to you not to take your eye’s of the road. ‘

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    To hold the belief Westminster rule is good for us and accept the state of our capital city’s roads is delusional. In any event, Edinburgh is supposed to be a World Heritage Site’ while getting constructively degraded.

  11. donald says:

    Yes ,but if you want to demoralize a nation you undermine its culture and access to it .
    Easily one of the most beautiful city’s on the planet and deserving of its status , its truly criminal not to maintain the roads that give people access .But we both know that .
    Have you ever visited the keyboard collection as St Cecilias Hall ? Awesome. Best collection in the world . Must get there again sometime .

  12. jester1970 says:

    I’m a regular cyclist in Edinburgh, and one of the many who has come a cropper at the hands of the tram lines (right outside Haymarket Station).
    If something is excessive I’ll report it via the Fix My Street website:

    Sometimes, they even fix things…

  13. Grouse Beater says:

    Must be a veritable spaghetti junction at that point.

  14. Jester1970 says:

    I don’t cycle there anymore. It’s just not cycle friendly.

    A combination of drizzle and slick tyres saw me rip a brand new jacket and destroy my helmet. Not something I wish to repeat.

    On the subject of falls, I’m just back from Holyrood Park where I took a fall on a patch of mud. I think I should just stay in…

  15. Grouse Beater says:

    I sympathise. I gave up cycling ages ago for a Smart Car. Never regretted a moment, though a pothole did for one suspension rack. An open topped version gives you wind in the hair thrills without drivers cutting you up.

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