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Petition against surface dressing gets 10,000+ signatures

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

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?



John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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