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The installation and creation of treacherous surfaces
 
Observations in Bordeaux, September 2004
 

I have been becoming more and more aware of the differing, but equally poor and unsuitable, surfaces that are being used on an increasing basis nowadays. This has today been drilled home to me in Bordeaux where I have just visited.

As we travelled to Bordeaux the radio announced that the city was an ideal place to cycle and that cycling was one of the best ways of getting around. I was intrigued and interested to see how this had been achieved.

My first impression as we cycled in to the town centre from the outskirts was that this was as bad as other areas nowadays. A cycle path had been painted on our road, but was carefully placed in what I call the killing zone alongside parking bays; any unexpectedly opening car door could have hit us. Also the road surface was poorly maintained, the majority of the potholes and subsidence dips were within the confines of the cycle lane.

Then we got into the town centre and I was horrified to see the tram lines cut into the ground on our route. Cyclists were everywhere, and you could see that they were fortunately all too well aware of the danger as you could witness them taking sharp turning actions as they changed course, rather than risk their wheels dropping into the groove. As a newcomer to the area I might not have been aware of this danger, fortunately I am aware from other experiences so was able to warn my wife of the danger before we were injured. Other visiting cyclists might not have been so furtunate.

Metal studs were also commonly used to mark out lanes and the correct route to proceed across wide expanses of smooth polished stone that had been used to pave the area. I was worried that should my tyre rub the raised edge of one of these it would knock me off course, potentially off the bike altogether. I was more concerned by the smooth stone surfacing though. It offered little traction and I doubted that it was really suitable in any condition other than the heat of a dry summerís day.

Now donít get me wrong, I agree that the town centre did look neat, tidy, clean and well maintained. The ground surfacing that had been used was a pleasure to look at and did greatly add to the overall effect of the area. Black tarmac would be much worse from an image point of view. However these particular roads are not only not closed to traffic, we are told we should be cycling on them.

My fears were substantiated later in the day as a light drizzle broke out. As I stood outside a shop I watched two riders fall in one incident and another fall in a later unrelated crash. The reason was simply that there was no traction. These riders were riding on a surface akin to ice. A twitch of the steering, braking too sharply or even putting too much pressure on the pedals was depositing them on the ground alongside their bike. Other riders were coming down the street towards me with a foot flat on the ground as though they were riding a speedway bike. I doubted theyíd survive much better as the bike was leant towards them so there was less weight (and therefore traction) on the tyres.

I am glad that at this time I was away from the area paved with this polished marble where cars were driving. I cannot believe that this material is being used for a road surface, and itís not just Bordeaux; I witnessed the exact same polished marble in use in Sarlat-La-Caneda. How many car drivers will be aware that on a drizzly summerís afternoon that they are actually driving on a surface almost as slippery as the icy roads of winter? How many drivers will increase their stopping distance accordingly and brake exceptionally carefully? Not many unfortunately. I just hope and pray that in these predominantly pedestrianised areas nobody is killed or injured should they step out in front of an inattentive driver.

The most sensible cyclists had by now dismounted and were walking. Even this was not safe. I could see some pedestrians slipping and sliding, and then one tripped over the raised edge of the paving (at that particular point the different coloured slabs are offset by about an inch in height to emphasise the main path). This raised edge had been avoided until then by both pedestrians and cyclists alike, Iíd even witnessed cyclists changing direction suddenly to avoid tripping over this hazard.

Another common form of transport I had noticed was Roller Blades. Now that the drizzle was settling I noticed no skaters at all, yet the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists had not reduced. I wondered whether the skaters had taken refuge, found an alternative route that offered traction or whether they had abandoned their skates and put shoes on for a slower but safer journey.

In the course of that morning I had seen at least five people with injured legs, yet I cannot recall the last time I saw somebody on crutches; I have a feeling it may have been seven months ago when I was in hospital myself for my shoulder injury! I had wondered when I was in the city why I was seeing so many people on crutches, now though I suddenly wondered if I had seen the reason. This surface. Like Dianaís fountain in London had the refurbishment of the city been under the control of artists and not practical safety engineers?

I am worried for the future though. As more and more cities, towns and villages are made pedestrian and cyclist friendly, as more and more towns copy this continental image, are we actually going to see an increase in injury because of the use of unsuitable planning and material usage?

If youíre out riding, take note of this and pay attention to the surface you are riding on. Stay safe now.


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