Thursday, 21 December 2017

On The Slippery Slope

Following hot on the heels (geddit) of last week's post about the snow and the "winter service" response, this week, I was at the recieving end of the cold weather.

Yes, for the second time since 2011 (when I started cycling for transport), I came a cropper on a patch of ice. Don't worry I am fine and as far as I can tell, the bike is OK too, although I did ache for a few days after.

I returned to the scene of the crime and the cause was fairly clear, but more on that in a minute. It's a fairly new route for me because of a recent scheme which swapped some fire gates for bollards and now allows me to get off a section of a main road and into a fairly quiet residential area.

The photo below is where I came off. What I should have done is slowed right down and turned right after those two manhole covers (because you don't want to change direction on slippery covers). What I actually did was turn right before the covers, hitting a perfectly smooth (and invisible) patch of black ice just to the left of the centre line (as you look at it) in the side road. Black ice isn't really black, it is actually a crystal clear layer of ice which lets the surface colour come through!

I remember the incident in slow motion. The main road (to the left) was covered in frost which is generally not too bad to ride over and the sun was just coming up, bathing the area in light. I remember it's warmth and welcomed it on such a cold day.

As I started my turn, I realised that the entrance to the junction was a sheet of ice and almost instinctively, I knew I was coming off. My bike slid out from under me and ended on its right side by the kerb and I thumped down onto the road on my back, just favouring my right shoulder.

I think I was a little bit surprised, but I jumped right up, grabbed my bike and popped it onto its stand to check it. I had no pain at all, no damage to my clothes and so felt rather lucky. An old boy hurried over to see if I was OK (I said I was) and he said that he had slipped there the other day. After putting my bike chain back on the cogs, I got back on and carried on (slowly) to work.

The next day, I actually felt quite battered, despite having no bruises and so I took pain killers for a couple of days. Returning to the site, it was lightly raining and so the puddles showed up well;

This photo is taken from the side road and there is an area around the where the give way and centre lines meet holding water. With a bit of surface moisture and cold temperatures, this is going to freeze. As I stopped to take photos, a lady stuck her head out of the window of a house and asked if I was the guy who came off his bike earlier in the week. I said I was and she said that if I was going to report it (to the council) then tell them a school kid also came off his bike there as well.

Several things came together to throw me off. The junction is actually a crossroads. Three of the 'arms' run down hill to the junction and the fourth (the one I was turning into) runs down hill into the junction for the first 50 metres or so. If there is some cold air moving around, some of it is going to stay caught in this little hollow and freeze any moisture present.

The main road (to the left of the first photo) has a much rougher texture than the side road and even if covered in frost, stones in the surface will protrude and give some grip. The road I turned into has had a surface treatment applied (to seal the surface) and because the area in the entrance to it is uneven, water holds. The old and worn surface would have had cracks to let the water run through, despite being uneven.

The position of the manhole covers influenced my turning position and so I was still turning as I hit the ice - there was no way I was staying upright. Being a back street, there is no gritting routinely taking place - unlike the main road I was avoiding by using this route! Finally, being a new "route", I hadn't cycled it in the winter and so didn't know that this junction could ice up.

I often say that everything is a learning experience and this incident is no exception. I have now stored this little quirk in my mental map and I will be more careful passing through on cold days. Beyond me, though, there is an important lesson in highways management.

The quiet route I took is not signed as a "cycle route" and so the local inspection regime will be set up for basic cyclical visits. The location won't be on any priority gritting (winter service) routes and so throws up the issue of relying on side streets as general use for cycling in lieu of doing anything decent on main roads (of course, people on foot have known this for years).

If this was part of a designated cycle route, then it is reasonable to expect that it would be inspected to a greater frequency (depending on it's status within a network) and potentially, it is a contender for gritting (depending on network importance). Both matters of course require the highway authority to have actually made the relevant assessments and included them within their service plans (both inspection and service).

Where formal routes are taken through side streets (some can be very well used), then the local authority concerned will need to up its game and inspect them more often for defects (as they would on a busy main road) and apply a reasonable winter service regime for the route's status. I am not sure this message is getting through however.

For my nemesis junction, the unevenness of the road surface is highly unlikely to be a candidate for investigation as a defect given the competing maintenance priorities elsewhere (there are no potholes or cracks). I'll be keeping an eye on the location, but I doubt it'll freeze that often, but I will certainly be taking a little more care here!

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