The Poetry of Pavement Preservation

I guess I’m too poetic for the pavement preservation crowd, or at least their journal.

Back in January, I went to the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, where I met a staffer from the Pavement Preservation Journal. So far as I can tell, the journal mostly concerns itself with issues like cold-mix versus hot-mix asphalt, different varieties of bitumen, and methods for testing pavement durability.


Don’t get me wrong, from an intellectual perspective I understand that these issues are important, urgently so, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Furthermore, cement is responsible for around 5% of global CO2 emissions (that’s crazy!), which is reason enough for everyone to care about pavement. But as compelling as the arguments are, fly ash content and tensile strength just doesn’t ignite my passions.

So when I stopped by the Pavement Preservation Journal stall at the TRB Annual Meeting, I thought to myself, “Now here’s something I don’t think about hardly at all,” and started chatting with the booth staffers. I mentioned that as a bicyclist, I really do appreciate high-quality pavement (though didn’t mention that’s generally as far as my thoughts on pavement go). After saying this, I was invited to submit an article explaining why bicyclists – not just car commuters and truck drivers – care about pavement preservation.

Challenge accepted.

A couple of months later, I banged out an article and submitted it. After some back and forth with the editor, I got the message – they wanted me to totally rewrite it to fit their “journalistic style.” I started to take the editorial scalpel to it, that heartless red pen, but darn it, I like the article just the way it is. Fortunately, internet allows me to publish my own stuff!

So, here you go:


With Warming Weather, Bicyclists Hit The Pavement

By Price Armstrong, AICP

Neglected pavement on Main Street in Springfield, MA

After the cold season of hibernation, renewal and new life was all around me. On my bike ride to work this morning, the birds were chirping. The sun had crested over the valley’s edge, clothing me in its warm rays. The last of the snow piles were gone, and daffodils were starting to push their way through the damp earth.

In short, spring has sprung.

But in the wake of the winter plowing, the sand and the salt, and those noisy snow tires that the overly-cautious put on their cars, the roads are anything but renewed. Though the New England winter was mild, perhaps unsettlingly so, there are still pot holes, long snaking cracks, and asphalt ruts all along the roadways.

From a bicyclist’s perspective, road maintenance is paramount. Especially in areas where multi-use paths are absent (which is the vast majority of the country), bicyclists must share the road with motorists. And just like the craggy roadways jolt a car’s shocks, bike wheels and biker’s wrists pay the price for every bump and pit in the asphalt.

It’s not just inconvenience or discomfort, either. According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, 13% of all bicyclist injuries are caused by crashes resulting from poor road condition. Potholes are the main culprit. In one particularly gruesome example, a man in New York City impaled himself on a wrought iron fence after hitting a pothole. This is 13% of crashes that could be avoided if we just maintained our roads better.

pbic table
Source: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

Furthermore, poor road quality can often send a bicyclist from the bike lane into the travel lane, creating an unsafe situation. The seam between the curb and the asphalt is especially vulnerable to cracking. When I was working as a bicycle safety instructor, I emphasized that predictability was key. Bicyclists should establish a path and maintain it. Veering into and out of traffic is not only stressful, but also dangerous – a driver who is texting, fiddling with the radio, or otherwise distracted may not see a bicyclist move in front of her, and tragedy can result.

The benefits of maintaining a high level of road quality are well-documented when it comes to automobiles. Lower wear and tear, faster travel times, less stressful driving conditions. For bicyclists, these benefits are magnified, with personal safety added on top. In this season of renewal, let’s strive toward renewing our streets. It’s good for everyone, bicyclists included.


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