Petition against surface dressing gets 10,000+ signatures

Quick and cheap road repairs branded "dangerous" for two-wheelers

by John Stevenson   August 22, 2014  

Loose chippings (Crown copyright).png

A petition calling for the banning of surface dressing — the technique of resurfacing a worn road by spreading a layer of tar and stone chips on it — has reached over 10,000 signatures on the Government's e-petitions website.

The petition, created by Christopher Caswell, claims that surface dressing leaves roads with "loose chipping for months".

Caswell writes: "Any that are not stuck down can cause a hazard to any road user. This is fastest and cheapest however due to the chipping it is definitely the most dangerous surface for any and all two wheeled vehicles."

While the vehicle damage that concerns drivers and motorcyclists is less of a problem for cyclists, the tendency of recently surface-dressed roads to accumulate piles of stone chippings near the road edge makes the method a potential hazard for cyclists too.

Motorcycle News has got behind the petition with a post on its Facebook page (see below) getting almost 400,000 Likes and over 2,000 shares.

But posters to that page identifying themselves as highways engineers say that, done properly, surface dressing works well in inexpensively and quickly bringing roads back up to standard without the lengthy road closures required for full resurfacing.

Ian Castle wrote: "If done properly surface dressing is very effective, cheap and offers minimal disruption. Modern techniques do rely on cars passing over it slowly to rack in the excess stone, but frequent sweeping and short term speed restrictions control the risk.

"If the restrictions are ignored then accidents and damage do occur. Given a week or so of proper application and after care, less than the equivalent of closing the road for reconstruction, you have a better, cheaper and less disruptive solution."

Sean Foster added: "I'm a highways engineer in Derbyshire and a lot of the back roads are little more than decades of surface dressing laid on top of each other. The fact is they perform well, drain well and as long as a dressing is swept properly after a new 'layer' has been laid there is nothing to worry about."

However, another engineer, Andy Hardiman, wrote that he won't use surface dressing as he believes relying on 10mph speed limits and proper implementation by contractors is not enough to ensure safety.

Hardiman wrote: "I cannot advocate the use of this method due to the fact that you know as a designer idiots will speed on it and can kill themselves on it… The fact that the contractors very rarely sweep the road in regular enough or in time to stop build up of gravel in dangerous layers affecting motorcycles and cars [and] the fact that we as designers dismiss our responsibility by putting in unenforced speed limits or advisory signs to simply wash our hands of designer's responsibility under CDM [Construction Design and Management] regs does not cut it for me and I for one will never sign one of these jobs off again."

Chris Peck, policy coordinator with the CTC, said that resurfacing is a better solution, where possible. However, reliance on surface dressing is all part of a pattern of reduced road maintenance over the last few decades. Even surface dressing is used only half as much as it was 20 years ago, he said.

Peck told "I agree that poor workmanship may be part of the problem here.

"If applied poorly onto an already deformed or damaged surface, surface dressing can make cycling conditions worse, as it will result in small deviations in the surface texture and increases in vibration.

"Loose chippings must be swept up soon after surface dressings have been applied as these can cause a hazard to cyclists. The standard approach is to make at least two sweeps, but anecdotal evidence suggests that this is often not performed correctly."

"Well laid, in good conditions, on smooth roads, surface dressing can preserve a deteriorating surface for longer, extending the life of the road and preventing pothole formation."

In a blog post today explaining the decline in maintenance of the roads in the last couple of decades, Peck wrote: "CTC would much prefer roads to be fully resurfaced, but, as this costs almost 9 times as much as dressing, it is understandable that local authorities, with tight budgets, resort to this method to waterproof the roads and improve skid resistance.

"I agree that surface dressing is awful, but if it prevents potholes forming (which it will only do if laid correctly), then it's probably worth doing, for both safety and fiscal reasons, even if ride quality suffers."

As you can see from this Facebook discussion, motorcyclists are generally strongly against the use of surface dressing. Should cyclists get behind this petition too?



41 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

I think it is a solution that is used as part of a low cost 'one size fits all' approach, but as we know nothing works well everywhere.

I think we should look to Holland to see how roads should be constructed, as they all appeared to be beautifully smooth. Probably at a significant cost though.

posted by wrevilo [98 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 16:00


The key to all this is in my opinion is in the application.

As far as i am aware this is how Surface dressing is supposed to work. For a stretch of road that costs roughly 1m to make,

build new road with perfect surface and 35-50 year lifespan =1m.

after 35-50 years surface dress once for £50,000 this will extend the life by about 7-10 years.

after another 7-10 years surface dress 1 more time at £50,000 which will extend the lifespan for another 5-ish years.

This is roughly the logic behind it and as you can see from the admitedly rough figures that it is a cost effective method WHEN DONE PROPERLY.(i.e. patching potholes, clearing drains etc) before work it generally is effective.

I myself have never had a problem with surface dressed roads while cycling. If i come across one i generally just avoid it for a few weeks and by that time the excess chips have either bedded in or been swept off the road by the action of car tyres.

Saying all that though i can see how many people become infuriated when a freshly surface dressed road fails after a year. This is mostly likely entirely down to misapplication. Contractors are supposed to take into account a myriad of factors such as road hardness, surface temperature, rainfall existing surface texture and so on. In my expierence they just bung on the same stuff for every route and move on to the next site.

I also have never ever seen a contractor/council come back to sweep a surface dresses road.

I would agree that if a council can't ensure that surface dressing is laid and looked after correctly then they shouldn't be doing it.

I would disagree with the sentiment that is a silly solution that doesn't work and should be banned. Many countries use this with very little backlash.

posted by Pointbroken [28 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 16:08


Well as part of the "Tour de France" legacy Kirklees council decided that all the freshly laid tarmac for the tour needed this redressing treatment. After complaining directly to the council I received this response.

"The roads were fetched up to scratch in preparation for the tour de France. The road has been surface dressed to maintain the road at this standard. This will seal the repaired road surface and prevent the ingress of water, the main course of potholes and surface defects, one of the biggest problems for cyclist. Nearly all Huddersfield roads are maintained by surface dressing. This road has been dressed at the most opportune and cost effect time. Surface dressing requires the chippings to be bedded by the road traffic and the loose chippings during this process do result in skid risk. The road was dressed on the 17th July swept 18th, 20th and the 25th The latest sweep which included the footways was 4th August and will be swept as and when necessary. I understand and am aware of your concerns but the end result will be worth it."

After reading what other highways agency engineers have had to say about this practise I feel that Kirklees council have wasted a lot of money treating road surfaces which didn't need treating and should have used it to bring other, much more needing, roads up to scratch.


posted by it_tel [1 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 16:53


The Kirkstall Road in Leeds has just been done..
except they missed out the bits of cycle lane that had different coloured tarmac and the bus lane (that doubles as a cycle lane). But they have filled up with loose gravel

The pot holes were not filled and the road hasn't been swept properly after two weeks, so there are still piles of gravel (which are just about invisible).

posted by RedfishUK [102 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 17:01


Flying chippings are very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians.

posted by sooper6 [24 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 17:06


One local road (bypass nr Shepperton) was surface dressed some years ago over the whole - relatively wide - width. Unfortunately the outer edges on each side are cycle lanes, and reinstating the white lining for them only a week or so later meant there'd been very little consolidation - would probably have needed 6 months or more to get enough cars straying towards the edge to do the job properly.

Plus they still didn't redo the 30 yards from the end of that (40mph) into the neighbouring 30 limit, where the old surface dressing has been coming off for years.

posted by JonD [353 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 17:18


Binky wrote:
Is someone getting a bung so councils use this method instead of doing a proper job!

This is a more expensive method, for a bad job that can not handle the weather in England.

A bung? You'll be reporting this to the police, of course. Or are you just spouting rubbish from the Mail's big book of council-bashing lies?
The truth of the matter is that this is a cost-effective method of road maintenance. Council highway budgets have been underfunded for years and frankly the petition is little more than a tantrum thrown by a toddler who wants more sweets.

Chuffy's picture

posted by Chuffy [206 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 17:24


They've just dressed all of our local lanes bloody pointless. Angry They laid a section on a 50mph road which i only stay on for a couple of 100 feet they left ridges of stones even slowing down to a crawl it nearly took me down. The surfaces are all bubbled and far worse for cyclists than even the pot hole ridden surface they went over the top of at least before you could see the holes now it's just a sea of grey.

I''m signing the petition.

posted by pablo [84 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 18:21


I HATE surface dressed roads. There's one area I commute through regularly which must have had this treatment about 3 times in 18 months. Why they don't spend the money doing a proper job I don't know - though IMO the road wasn't that bad to start with. The worst thing is that on the return trip there are piles of deep gravel on a fast and sharp downhill bend, which gives you some unhappy choices; get in the middle of the road and (really really) slow down or get off and walk. I'd rather be able to use the left hand bit of the road and allow a bit of safe overtaking. But that's just me.

posted by RuthF28 [99 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 18:37



The majority of roads dressed this way in my area are a total mess within a few months. I fail to see how this so called " road surface" is safe for two wheeled vehicles. Waiting

Just last week I was lucky not to be injured when I went into a dip in the road, on a recently dressed road. The excess chippings had washed down into the dip after recent heavy thunder storms and were around an inch deep. One moment rolling along nicely at 20mph, next, franticly trying to keep control. Managed to stay upright more through luck than skill.

I've yet to see a "chipped" road in good condition after a year.


tourdelound's picture

posted by tourdelound [137 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 18:50


Was riding on two newly done roads on this today and just thought, doesn't anyone want roads they can be proud of?
Dont the people doing this have any kind of pride it their job?

The roads I was on, A130 to East Hanningfield was left bumpy as hell and they left the drains so they are now dipped and make the roads even nore bumpy in time it becomess ok to drive on, but to cycle on its terrible.

Its funny how they dont do this on roads in West London, and they dont do it on roads that are resurfaced for events like the 2012 road race - check out the beautiful smooth Box Hill job for example, and also the lovely new tarmac job done through Felstead in preparation for the Tour De France to come through.
There's terrible double standards and personally I think we're better than this shoddy surface, its degrading to the whole country.

posted by pmr [193 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 18:57


Some Fella wrote:
I could post pictures of countless examples in the lanes of Cheshire where i ride where it has failed after one year. In Gatley it failed in less than 6 months and had to be redone (im sure it will start failing again after this winter).
Its a false economy apart from all the safety issues it presents to cyclists (and motorcyclists) and its also not true that it doesnt damage your vehicle - i was cleaning tar that had splattered up off my bike for weeks after going over a newly dressed road last year.

We must ride the same lanes, even on lightly trafficked roads the surface wears away in less than 12 months.

I've seen no evidence of the roads being swept and the notion that traffic will adhere to a 20 mph limit is hilarious.

It seems to me that Councils think they must be seen to be doing something, even if it is ineffective.

Crosshouses's picture

posted by Crosshouses [272 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 19:02


@ Chuffy

Good grief! (sighs shakes head)

If a shortcut costs more than doing the job correctly there is no point in doing the shortcut

I'll leave you and your Daily Mail fetish to think about it Silly

posted by Binky [115 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 19:02


It's called chip and deal in the states and that stuff is horrible to ride on. I would love to see it banned!

posted by jarredscycling [457 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 19:39


Another surface that I particularly hate, especially when I'm on my motorcycle, are the small grooves and ridges left after the old surface has been "planed" off. If you are travelling at any speed (you usually don't get any warning you're about to hit this) they can drag you about in unexpected ways. Road under repair should be well signed, if not closed until the work is completed.

posted by Sit at the back... [17 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 19:59


I'm a biker as well as a cyclist and the roads around Bristol are being treated in this way and it's a complete nightmare.

As others have said, when cycling you're often on the side of the road, where the loose chippings are - both sketchy to ride on and dangerous as our high-pressure tyres ping chippings in all directions.

On the motorbike, it's just as bad (And because I *really* don't want to drop my bike), but also to feel safe I want to slow right down on the recently surfaced sections. But I can't because I get hustled and bullied from van drivers and cars behind that don't understand how risky the surface is on two wheels

We shouldn't have to feel in danger on roads we need to use every day because of budget cuts!!


posted by Goldfever4 [195 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 20:06


P3t3 wrote:

It may be inconvenient for a short while whilst the chippings are there but the alternative seems to be even more pothole patching and knackered road surfaces.

It's not inconvenient, it is downright dangerous.


posted by Goldfever4 [195 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 20:07


short term speed restrictions

In all my years of driving, I have never ever seen temporary speed restrictions imposed on a road that has been surface dressed.

Those advisory speed signs that are usually used are not speed restrictions; it's no wonder drivers ignore signs that have no meaning in law.

posted by Saratoga [32 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 20:09


Nice to see a balanced informed view!

posted by PhilReyFP2 [12 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 20:31


The road I commute on by car & cycle has been surface dressed 3 times now. Not once has it been done to any form of competence, nor does it get regular sweeps. What we do get is two well worn - smooth! - grooves on each side of the carriageway and a small mountain of stones elsewhere, usually most prominent at the kerbside. Which is nice.
Oddly enough the council never seem remotely interested.

My brain takes on routes my lungs & legs can't deliver.

matheson's picture

posted by matheson [53 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 20:39


Surface dressings are positively a hazard to all that ride and drive and to those that are in the vicinity of the chippings get thrown up.
They are a threat to the eyes of cyclists and cause paintwork damage.
They are a common cause of windscreen damage on both road vehicles and motorcycles and damaged paint finishes on cars and motor cycles.
The can & do cause damage to motorcyclists eyes,faces and to the visors on helmets.
They are also a potential source of loss of traction in country/rural lanes and when built up to mounds on bends they can be a source of total loss of traction and sliding.
The days of machine-brushing the surface to reduce the left-overs to a minimum are long-gone and of course it is not the local authority or the contractor that picks up the bill for the resultant damages.

Your ears are your rear end defenders,don't clutter them and stay safe.
Clutter them and possibly stay in hospital,or worse still!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

TheCyclingRooster's picture

posted by TheCyclingRooster [24 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 21:17


I cycle along a surfaced dressed hill on my commute throught the country lanes. It's steep, feels safe (not for the first couple of weeks) and is much better than most of the roads I ride that are full of pot holes???

jkolbe's picture

posted by jkolbe [1 posts]
22nd August 2014 - 21:36


I am with you on this one.
A month after a resurface of this kind you have a good a safe surface to ride and drive upon. It's not great for a few weeks, but it helps stop roads falling apart when councils have tight budgetary restraints.
Surely it is possible to avoid these roads until heavy traffic has secured the surface. After settling in the surface is great.
There have been articles on pot holes and folks complaining that road repairs are needed, and now complaints about repairs.
Pay more tax would be one suggestion, or maybe ride in a Velodrome.

posted by upinthehills [33 posts]
23rd August 2014 - 0:19


Edinburgh council last year and said they were going to widen their program of surface dressing. Not because they thought it would do any good, but because it gave a high level of "perceived" good. That is, it makes roads look a bit nicer and therefore people (i.e. voters) get the impression that something worthwhile is actually being done.

Translation: we know it's a waste of money, but we're going to do it anyway because we think most of you are idiots.

Unfortunately I can't find the article containing the quote from the council bigwig in charge of transport at the time.

seven's picture

posted by seven [138 posts]
23rd August 2014 - 8:58


A mix of tar and stone chips spread across the road -- luxury! Here (in Ontario, Canada) we deal with 3 types of "fixes".

For potholed roads they send a pick up truck full of asphalt patch down the road and the operators randomly throw shovel fulls into the holes and hope it gets packed in by cars before it breaks up and has to be redone. (Note: they are paid by the truckload so workmanship is not a prime concern.) I hit a fresh patch earlier this year, flipped the bike and fractured 5 ribs and collapsed a lung.

If the road has cracks, they inject a tar like substance that goes soft when the temperature rises. It nicely hides the crack so you aren't sure if your tire will sink into it. Avoiding these while being buzzed is hard on the chamois Smile

If it is a gravel/dirt road they either re-grade it or lay a couple of inches of stone. Either way it takes a few months for cars to pack down a riding lane.

posted by massspike [134 posts]
23rd August 2014 - 14:03


On a long ride today, over many roads that were once surface-dressed which have now settled into very rough roads on which to cycle (hate them!!!), got me thinking: Surely the increased friction caused by the rough surface will increase the fuel consumption and emissions of cars, which goes against the government's stated aim of reducing CO2 emissions!

posted by daddyELVIS [661 posts]
23rd August 2014 - 14:53


its all very well saying just avoid the roads that have been done for a bit, but the councils usually start covering all the roads in the same area, and eventually you end up pushed out towards roads that maybe busier or more dangerous to cycle on.

whilst I dont have an issue with the surfacing if its done properly, for whatever reason it very rarely seems to be done properly thesedays, one of the roads I used regularly had it done recently, none of the holes or gaps in the road surface were fixed before they dumped all the gravel on it, 6 weeks later part of the gravel has worn away either back to the original surface or leaving shiny tarmac instead, the gutters are still full of loose chipings like some bad Ground force gravel bed makeover. and its made the junctions treacherous

posted by Awavey [75 posts]
24th August 2014 - 13:27


Maybe if we put more freight onto rail and if fewer people chose these vanity 4x4 vehicles the roads would not fall into such disrepair in the first place.

posted by Ramuz [138 posts]
24th August 2014 - 14:55


Awful to ride on. No they rarely get swept after being laid. I fear about falling off on one and ripping my flesh to pieces.

Short n sweet comment! Hint.

We're all entitled to a reasonable opinion!

posted by Guyz2010 [298 posts]
25th August 2014 - 8:07


I’ve just signed the petition. Having said that, I think that a more realistic goal might be to reduce the amount this dodgy treatment gets used and reduce the amount of times it’s done in a dodgy way.

A road dressing in my home town of Liphook (Hants) went badly wrong a couple of years ago and the mess is still with us

It was done in hot weather and the chippings failed to set. It then rained heavily for a couple of days. The result was clouds of dust, stretches of bare tar a mile long, massive new potholes and lines of chippings a foot high still present two weeks after the work. The roads were not only unrideable by bicycles – I couldn’t even ride them safely on a motorbike. Huge efforts were made to get the chippings back up, but they simply couldn’t hoover up that volume of stones.

The other specific practice that has to go is the 10 or 20mph 'speed limits'. This is completely cynical as it is a pure ‘cover-your arse’ for the local authority/contractors. I remember coming across a 10 mile stretch of the A272 in Hampshire that had been 'dressed'. Normally a 10 minute drive, this would be have been an hour for anyone sticking to the speed limit. The road wasn’t busy, no-one kept to the limit and I’m sure the contractor didn’t really consider anyone would. A broken windscreen for a motorist can be shrugged off: 'We put the signs up - we're covered'. But a 70mph stone in the face for a cyclist?

I’m not saying drive as fast as you like on the chippings – I’m saying the contractors must finish the job and open the road in a fit state.

So what I would be looking for is some government enforced guidelines about when dressing can be done, how it should be done (fix the underlying road surface/potholes etc. first) and how and when the job should be considered finished (by the contractors - not local car drivers).

Finally, although in support of the ‘don’t do it at all argument’ – when did you encounter this treatment in a country with ‘proper’ roads like say Germany?

posted by Mutley21 [1 posts]
25th August 2014 - 19:28

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