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18 July, 2005

On aggregate, leave it alone

The short section of cycle track linking Collingham Drive and Bailrigg Lane, Lancaster was resurfaced a couple of weeks ago.  The grass verge had been encroaching onto the tarmac, so that needed cutting back, but otherwise I was surprised that the Council considered there was a need to do more.  I've always thought the surface was very good (not that I'm a tarmac connoisseur) – no potholes, puddles or even trivial irregularities.

The job took three days, and hence was in three sections marked by dividing ridges. Not a problem; after the tar layer had been laid and a smooth coating of sharp gravel smoothly applied, a heavy roller would press the stone into the tar, simultaneously removing the ridges.

Yet that never arrived. Day after day, as I had to decelerate to a slow walking pace to negotiate tight turns on loose gravel, I gave the workmen the benefit of doubt – perhaps they couldn't return to finish the job in ambient temperatures of over 25°C, and would do so when the weather moderated. In the mean time, the surface was degrading, particularly where bike tyres were carving narrow ruts in the gravel. Car tyres might do the roller's job, and force stone into the tar, but narrow bike tyres preferentially push it aside. If the roller ever turned up, it'd also be less than ideal to press horse sh*t into the finished surface.

Complaints via the University's online staff newsletter have drawn a response from the Uni's Travel Plan Co-ordinator: The University wasn't involved in the planning, but he's checked with the City Council and... it's finished. That's it. One of the better cyclepaths in Lancaster has been effectively downgraded to a roughly-surfaced semi-rural track. And to state the obvious, I've paid for this deliberate degradation via my taxes.

The stated aim of the City Council was "to provide a safer surface in icy conditions". Firstly, that's irrelevant for at least nine months of each year, and secondly, the reasoning makes little sense. Coarser aggregate within a fixed, otherwise 'finished' tarmac surface would be great, but loose gravel probably won't even last until winter, and is currently a skidding hazard.

Our Travel Plan Co-ordinator reports that "they [the City Council] are not proposing this treatment for any more routes this year, but it is (at the moment) part of the County Council's standard specification for cycleways." I struggle to believe this is based on engineering principles, and can't help wondering whether it's just cost-cutting, though if that's the case, why not just have left it as it was?

That's my primary objection: it was already absolutely fine.

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