Manhole Covers

This morning I fell off my bike for the first time (in my adult life!).

I have attached a picture of the crash site

Turning left from a main road onto a smaller road I went over the man hole cover pictured right on the junction (which was wet) and my bike skidded and disappeared from underneath me. I ride a hybrid bike, my tyres are relatively new and are adequately inflated and I wasn't going very quickly.

Thankfully I am unhurt and my bike is undamaged.

I have had small skids on wet man-hole covers before (although never fallen off) so clearly they are a danger.

Is there anything that can be done to make man-hole covers less slippery? Can they be made out of alternative materials? Is LCC aware of the danger of man-hole covers and is it something which is considered when inspecting new road layout designs?

The key point of bad design that I can see is that in this case and in one other case I can think of on my routine journey is that the man hole is sited right on a junction so the only time that a cyclist/motorcylist/moped would go over it is when turning, which is exactly when a skid is possible. Are there any guidelines for new road layouts which specify how far from a junction a man hole cover should be?  


First of all, glad you are OK - any kind of fall off a bike is traumatic at best.

This is one more feature of roads which were not designed with cycling in mind. This can be added to the long list of other features.

I thinking painting them bright pink would make them more avoidable, but cannot see that actually hapenning.

Alas, we're a long way from where we want to be re road design and to be honest manhole covers are probably way down the list of things which need serious attention. 

Just be more aware in the future - they're like tram tracks in Holland or Brussels - everyone I know has got stuck in them at least once, but you only ever do it once. 

I've also had many a small skid on access covers (I think that's the up-to-date term) although I've always managed to remain on my bike; also drain covers can be difficult depending on the type of grating and its direction. Additionally, both seem to be more affected by freezing conditions that the rest of the road surface.

I think the positioning of an access cover at a junction is fairly inevitable - it's exactly here where the cabling or piping also has to have its own junction, which is inevitably a weak point in the network or may need accessing for other reasons (e.g. removing blockages from piping). For some networks perhaps the access cover could be located in the centre of the road, which might make it less likely to be on the path of a cyclist (although a turning-right-cyclist might run over it), but this would mean that when access is required through the access cover more of the road would have to be closed - i.e. a greater incovenience at these times.

Alternatively, for some networks an access cover could be situated on the pavement at the corner, although I have to confess I just slipped on just one such access cover as a pedestrian (!) earlier today.

I have seen some access covers that have been tarmac-ed over - normally when the access cover is sunken very low in the road and constitutes something of a "pothole". My impression is that the tarmac in these situations is very fragile and needs re-doing very frequently.

All-in-all I don't have any great suggestions - but I did like the idea of painting them bright pink!

Paintd white lines in the rain are as bad, we're never going to get rid of them. Just have to be careful.

  • By phufbl at 12:07pm 2 January 2014

Good point that a road junction is likely to be also be a junction and therefore important access point for the water infrastructure below the street.

If it is unavoidable to have access covers on junctions, are there any other materials they could be made out of? I notice that they usually have treads on them presumably to make skidding less likely, but that clearly doesn't always work!

  • By dickyr at 5:18pm 2 January 2014
The best ones I have seen have a recessed top into which bitumen & Shellgrip can be applied. The problem is when this wears down but there is no reason this cannot become the responsibility of the utility company as part of their routine inspections.

There's a slippery manhole cover on the A3 just north of Stockwell station, just as the segregated cyclelane disappears and the road turns sharply left. I have seen numerous cyclists slip over here - and I have fallen once. Even putting blue paint on the top would be safer than the plain metal.

I don't think being aware of their location is enough. When you don't know the road then it is unacceptable that parts of it do not offer sufficient grip in damp conditions. I sincerely hope that Tfl and LCC consider this issue to be a major safety issue.

Nor is painting it pink or blue the best solution. There must be some sort of anti-slip surface that can be applied to metal covers. I am sure I have seen such thing and I am sure (within the quite large anti-slip industry) that something must exist or should be developed. 

By the way it is the responsability of the utility company to maintain this infrastrucutre, but I believe that the local highways authority communicates with them. Please, at least report this issue and mention that you had an accident.

I have been lobbying for a change in the highway standards for many years, to take account of the risks that certain essential highway equipments poses to the road user.  The standard for manhole covers is currently being reviewed, but accepting that this will be a european standard, the prospect that other countries will accept a standard that addresses risks for UK road users seems unlikely.  Many new covers have entered onto the market, offering enhanced levels of long term slip resistance, and some are being adopted on UK roads.  The main stumbling block is cost.  In these frugal times, the cost of replacing a manhole cover is suppressive to say the least.  With average contractor costs of between £600 and £1500 per cover, the budgets only allow essential maintenence to be addressed.  Add to that, the high number of covers being stolen for scrap, the 'kitty' is not as full as we would all like.

An alternative to replacement, is refurbishment.  This is currently being undertaken in the north of the country, by the addition of a material to the existing cover, providing a highly durable non-slip surface, which provides immediate results and is by far the cheapest way too resolve this prolem, even in the short term.  A google search of Premark Anti-Skid will direct right to the manufacturers website.  Additionally, this is the same material that is used for the signage on the Blue Route (not the cycle way) and has proved to very durable under heavy traffic loads over the last 3-4 years. 

Maybe lobbying your local councillors and MPs, with this knowledge may create some interest in looking for a cost effective solution.

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