Chip Seal

My wife and I took different routes on our Saturday bike rides, but arrived home within minutes of each other.

“They’ve chip sealed LaCrosse,” I said. “But you already knew that.”

She grimaced. “It was awful,” she said.

“Yeah,” I responded. “I had to use the sidewalk for a few hundred feet, until I got around the truck.”

“Well, my tires are wider than yours, so I could stick it out,” she said. “But it looks like I’ll have to take a different route for awhile.”

Uh oh. Bad news for bikers. Those little things sticking up in the road mark where the road will be striped, once the surface flattens out.

Uh oh. Bad news for bikers. Those little things sticking up in the road mark where the road will be striped, once the surface flattens out.

LaCrosse is an important road for bikers in our area. It’s a main artery through our subdivision, and is several miles long. In the direction we rode, it takes us to a T intersection, where we can choose our turn for different route variations. In the opposite direction, it goes to the Austin Veloway. It gets a lot of use.

The uneven chipped surface is less of a challenge for this mountain biker's wide tires.

The uneven chipped surface is less of a challenge for this mountain biker’s wide tires.

The disappointing thing is, I fail to see the need for resurfacing. The road is smooth. It has a nice marked bike lane. No potholes or gouges in the pavement for its entire length.

I checked part of the road again today, four days after the chip seal was laid down. It looks like they still have some more to do, because it’s not complete for the entire length of the road. But in the meantime, the traffic is having the desired effect. The chip seal has been tamped down, and at least where car wheels go, the road is almost smooth already.

The dreaded chip sealed surface. Loose gravel will cover the road for some time to come.

The dreaded chip sealed surface. Loose gravel will cover the road for some time to come.

But I can’t say the same for the bike lane area. Bikes just don’t have enough weight to flatten the chip seal. In spots, chips pile up in the bike lane, thrown out from under passing tires. It looks like cars will have a decent road to ride on again soon, but bikes will be shuddering over a rough lane for some time to come.

The same thing happened several years ago, when the city chip sealed Escarpment, which intersects LaCrosse. Escarpment has never returned to the same level of smoothness it had before it was treated. Other arterials in the area have had the same treatment since, and they’re not pleasant to ride on.

I can see the economic argument for chip seal. It must be less costly than putting down another layer of smooth asphalt. It’s just that in a part of town where cycling is a popular pastime, one would hope another way would be found to resurface the streets.

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6 thoughts on “Chip Seal

  1. They are also chip sealing here in the Mission-McAllen-Edinburg metroplex but with a twist, they are leaving the shoulders alone and are NOT resurfacing them! What a relief!

    • Last week I rode a road that had been newly chipsealed, and its shoulders also were untouched. But all the chips thrown up by passing vehicles created a loose gravel situation on the shoulder anyway. I think it was more dangerous to ride on than the chip sealed road.

  2. I want to first say I really enjoy your blog. It kills me when Austin takes a perfectly good smooth non cracked road and lays down the sh-t seal. Not only is it terrible for cyclists but I have known several kids that have been badly torn up by it from falls from bikes, scooters etc. Say no to the cheap sh-t seal.

  3. I wish the city would adopt a policy of not using chip seal on bike lanes. Would be nice for them to follow the policy like in the valley!!
    My kid required 3-4 stitches after falling while riding on a wet road.
    It sliced her knee open like a razor. I would hate to fall on it at high
    speed.

  4. A couple of years ago, TxDot added chipseal to a couple of very popular cycling roads. The effect: those roads are now ghost towns when it comes to cycling. This year, at the first sight of chipseal on popular cycling roads: several of us wrote scalding letters to TxDot. The result: no chipseal on bicycle lanes and shoulders. Make a fuss about it, and sometimes they will listen.

  5. @rhermida that is good to know. Chipseal just seems like the blob that can’t be stopped so often. I’m glad to see someone got attention. In the meantime, it’s time to change the bike to fatter tires :/

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