Bike Bob’s Factoid-Free* Potpourri  - Home




Copyright 1991

  by Bob Soetebier



 St. Louis Metro Area

Bicycling Advocacy Coordinator




     Imagine that ideal day forecast with little or no wind and clear

skies, along with perfect temperature and humidity.  You're looking

forward to just such a day to leisurely stretch your legs by riding

one of your favorite smooth-surfaced roads.  Nothing could possibly

ruin a day and ride like this...  Right?  Welllll...


     The Bad News:  More and more, many municipal, county and state

street and highway departments are utilizing an inferior roadway

resurfacing method known as "chip and seal", or in the layman's term:

Oil and Loose Gravel!

     What this term refers to is the initial spraying of a layer of

oil with a fairly thick (usually one- to 3- inches) layer of loose

gravel atop the oil.  This is left "as is" upon the roadway for a

period usually ranging from a couple of weeks to a month.  During this

time auto traffic is "allowed" to "wear in" the gravel into the oil.

Later a roadway crew then attempts to mechanically "sweep up" the

"excess" loose gravel that is left over.

  Unfortunately, rarely does

this attempt at "sweeping up" the excess gravel fully succeed.  Quite

frequently there still is a considerable amount of excess gravel left

over along the roadway.  The gravel that IS left over tends to remain

in precisely the areas that most bicyclists ride:  Along the right

side of the traffic lane; not to mention in the middle of the lane.

This excess gravel is also an extreme hazard on downhills and curves!

This is in addition to the loose gravel that builds up at

intersections and driveways, thus making regular and emergency stops


     Surface cracks and holes tend to open back up within a relatively

short period of time as a result of poor adhesion to their edges with

this type of resurfacing.  Adding insult to injury (pardon the pun!),

the excess loose gravel is usually the exact same color of the rest of

the roadway, thus rendering it almost impossible to tell what is

"solid" surface, AND what is NOT.  The final result is a MUCH rougher

surface, requiring increased effort and slower speeds, along with

bumpier riding for bicyclists... not to mention increased tire wear.

When you throw in frequently shaded roadway areas, this excess loose

gravel (which can persist for up to a year or more) poses an extremely

dangerous condition to bicyclists who are, by law, legitimate roadway



     More Bad News:  At last check, the St. Louis County Dept. of

Highways and Traffic plans were to employ this "oil and loose gravel"

method of roadway resurfacing on one-third of its roadways annually,

with the goal of having treated all county-maintained roads in this

manner within a 5-year period!  Additionally, many municipalities

within the St. Louis Metro Area (along with the Missouri and Illinois

State Highway Depts.) are rationalizing the use of this vastly

inferior roadway resurfacing method due to its lower "initial" cost.


     Some Good News:  Last year, as a former member of the St. Louis

County Board of Highways and Traffic, I mailed off a few dozen letters

to the Directors of both the Missouri and St. Louis County Highway

Depts., and to the mayors of many of the major Metro Area

municipalities protesting the use of "oil and loose gravel" on our

roadways.  In these letters I highlighted the hazards (that I

mentioned above) to bicyclists, along with the attendant potential

financial liabilities to the taxpayers (which these agencies neglect

to factor in as part of their "cost" rationalization!)  I concluded my

comments to them by stressing their legal obligation to maintain the

streets and roads in a such a manner as to be safe for ALL

legitimate roadway users (which, off course, includes bicyclists!)


     More Semi-Good News:  Contrary to general presupposition, just

because temporary warning signs (which typically read:  "CAUTION!

Loose Stone!  Travel At Own Risk!") may have been placed in the area

resurfaced in this manner, this does NOT relieve the responsible

agency from liability over an extended period (such as after the

typically inadequate attempt to "sweep up" the excess loose gravel.)

This is particularly true if they have already been notified that a

specific hazard at a specific location exists.

     This is where YOU come in! --- I would like to strongly urge each

and every one of you to (without delay) send certified letters

("Return Receipt Requested":  This is absolutely necessary as legal

evidence that they did receive your letter!) to your mayors, county

council person, and the heads of the appropriate street and/or highway

departments, and possibly your state representatives, protesting the

use of "chip and seal"/oil and loose gravel as a roadway resurfacing

method.  In these letters be sure to note the hazards posed to you and

other bicyclists, AND the financial liabilities to the taxpayers

should you or other bicyclists be injured due to the existence of such

hazards.  It is also VERY important to specifically cite exact roadway

locations that you are personally aware of, AND that their receipt of

your letter will serve as legal notification to these specific areas

of hazard.

     In these same letters, it is imperative that you ask them to

cease and desist in using such inferior roadway resurfacing methods

which pose such a significant safety hazard to you as a bicyclist and

legitimate roadway user.  At the same time, be sure to ask them to

retain the better quality (and less expensive in the long run

considering the financial liability factor), and smoother-surfaced,

standard overlay method of roadway resurfacing.


    Until next time...   See you ON the road!