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Councils cop caning over roads

There is hope that safer and smoother rides may be up the road for bike riders, following a critical report into the management of road maintenance by local councils.

Riders know only too well that local roads can be a trap for the unwary.

It’s not just broken spokes: broken teeth and other injuries are too often the result of the bumps, potholes, cracks and general hazards that can litter popular bike routes.

The Victorian Auditor General has taken a close look at how five councils take care of their roads and found numerous shortcomings.

Basically, councils are attempting to maintain roads with a blindfold on:

  • they don’t have accurate information on the condition of their roads
  • they don’t seek feedback from the communities that use them
  • they don’t use technology to validate visual assessment
  • they don’t know what their maintenance costs them and whether or not it is good value
  • they don’t have the information needed to properly prioritise maintenance

The Auditor-General's office found that 87 per cent of Victoria’s roads are managed by councils, which spend about 10 per cent of their budget on them.

Particularly noteworthy were the comments on the lack of proper community consultation.

"As part of maintaining any asset, councils need to understand how the community uses it so they can set service expectations and standards," the report said

"Collecting information about what road users need out of the local road network can help councils prioritise expenditure.

"It also allows councils to educate the community about the trade-offs required when budgeting for road maintenance.

"For example, councils can explain that maintaining existing assets to a certain condition may reduce the amount the council can spend on new infrastructure or other services.

"Despite the advantages, none of the audited councils effectively engage with the community to understand their preferences around road service levels."

Just about every day Bicycle Network gets feedback from riders regarding the condition of roads, often following incidents that injured people and/or damaged bikes.

Usually, the same reports are first made to councils, and arrive on Bicycle Network's desk because the councils would not take responsibility, and just as bad, did not welcome the faults being reported.

Councils need to realise that riders are actually a great source of accurate feedback about road conditions.

We are very observant of and sensitive to the tarmac: it keeps us upright, comfortable and swift. Or not.

We notice everything.

Should the Auditor-General's advice on better consultation be adopted by the government, bike riders are standing by to help.

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.

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