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"Accident waiting to happen" gravel cycle path maintained by good-willed resident with a shovel

If you want something done, do it yourself...

A Southampton man armed with a shovel has taken on responsibility for one of the city's cycle paths, fearing the loose gravel surface is "an accident waiting to happen".

Mike Marx, a 59-year-old handyman, told the Southern Daily Echo he has lived near The Avenue for 14 years and has begun sweeping away loose stones and levelling holes in the gravel path that runs alongside the A33 by Southampton Common.

In 2020, the path was widened with a — in the council's words — "compacted gravel surface", leaving the route in its current state (seen below in July 2021).

Southampton cycle path The Avenue (Google Maps)
Southampton cycle path The Avenue (Google Maps)

Southampton City Council says it intends to tarmac the path in the future, but Mr Marx insists he will "not give up" until the authority delivers on its promise.

"It's right by the road and on a normal bike the path is too hard. They have tarmacked other bike lanes. They did around the [Southampton University] Highfield Campus, but they have just left this mess," he told the local paper.

"It is only a matter of time until someone riding a bike slips right next to the road. I came out and put the shovel into it to level it and fill the holes, but it needs a proper path."

The lane runs through Common Land which, the council says, has required a lengthy planning permission application process to allow it to be tarmacked.

"In 2020 the path between Winn Road and Westward Road was widened along the observed desired line," Southampton City Council said.

"A compacted gravel surface was used to improve the surface from the previous dirt track and the intention is to add a tarmac surface to this.

"As this path is on Common Land it requires a Section 38 agreement to hard surface. This proposed hard surfacing secured planning permission in February 2022, so an S38 application is now being prepared to allow us to tarmac the path.

"We would like to thank residents for their patience while this application is processed."

In the meantime, one man and his shovel will be maintaining the route...

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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15 comments

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OldRidgeback | 1 year ago
2 likes

Gravel paths are ok when I'm on my MTB. They're not so good for my sons. One had a fixie and the other has a road bike. I actually know this path as it happens. My eldest was living very close by until a month ago.

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stonojnr replied to OldRidgeback | 1 year ago
0 likes

Depends how you define a gravel path, alot in the UK are little more than green/blue MTB trails

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Cycloid | 1 year ago
2 likes

Lovely public spirited bit of work, but....

As Rendel says there could be an insurance/liability aspect. Then there is the council worker (or small part of) who is now out of a job. We pay our taxes, the council doesn't do the job, sheds responisibilities cuts costs, but gets the job done in the end.

Great system, it will definitely catch on. I think some police forces have already realised that doing nothing makes problems go away.

World turned upside down.

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Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
2 likes

Good on that man, what a lovely thing to do. Unfortunately in this litigious age I worry for him if somebody comes a cropper and tries to blame one of his repairs; wasn't it around Christmas that Rod Stewart and his mates decided to repair some potholes in a local road and got a warning from the council that they could be liable for any consequences? It shouldn't be that way but…

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nordog | 1 year ago
3 likes

You should see how Wiltshire County Council Photos shows the £64.000 cycle after it was built around five years ago and I had tried the foilage back over the years and just a few months back. Only once have they cut it back and then they used a large tractor that damaged the edging.

 

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ajft replied to nordog | 1 year ago
0 likes

Ah, sounds like many of our bike paths.  Designed and built with a "light weight" amount of tar or concrete, then damaged by trucks driving along them to repair the damage caused by trucks driving along them

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Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
3 likes

Compacted gravel is fine for everything except the most highly bred carbon race rep.  NCN5 runs past me with that surface and it's better than some of the alleged tarmac'd pieces of it.

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mdavidford replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
5 likes

Sounds like in this case, though, the problem is that it's no longer compacted. Which suggests they didn't make a very good job of it in the first place (possibly because they thought they were just slapping it I as a temporary surface, so didn't need to do it properly).

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Mr.C replied to mdavidford | 1 year ago
3 likes
mdavidford wrote:

Sounds like in this case, though, the problem is that it's no longer compacted. Which suggests they didn't make a very good job of it in the first place

 

This needs to be rolled after rain which acts as a lubricant to help settle the gravel down.  If only rolled out dry it will break up.  Horses and motorbikes are this surface's worst enemy --  much too common where I ride.  Even done properly its life is 7-8 years, perhaps 10 if you're lucky. At about £80k per km (2m wide, 2010 price) the cost is the same as tarmac, but less durable.  Just looks nicer in a rural setting.

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Samtheeagle replied to Mr.C | 1 year ago
0 likes

The S38 permission from the secretary of state for works on common land required for a sealed surface - this is a time consuming process and is not required for maintenance/improvement where non-sealed surface is to be laid.  Re costs, from a 2020 project 4km of crushed recycled agregate MOT type 1 plus 10mm to dust rolled unsealed surface (not gravel) and drainage £120k - 1km tarmac and french drainage £300k.  All spec was 3m wide.

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vthejk replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
2 likes

My main issue with gravel as a cycling infrastructure is that it's awful to ride on in the wet.

I will not ride my bike with its 650Bx47 tires anywhere near our local gravelled Kenilworth Greenway in the winter or the wet, because (even with mudguards) I inevitably get covered in a fine spray of grey sludge. I don't even half mind it on the way home but it's miserable when on the way to work and a damned inconvenience at all times. The surface degrades quite poorly too - dunno if this is down to poor construction in the first place.

Therein lies the rub, though - gravel may be just fine for those who can put up with this, but for anyone who wants to commute in all weathers and stay relatively comfortable, it's a no go. Therefore - not inclusive infrastructure.

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antigee replied to Secret_squirrel | 1 year ago
2 likes

Local council (down under) deliberately uses gravel shared paths to reduce cyclist speeds...Mrs antigee has medical related balance problems and finds riding on gravel unpleasant and stressful

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the little onion replied to antigee | 1 year ago
1 like

It's a favourite tactic of the Canal and Rivers Trust - use shared gravel paths on towpaths, paid for by public grants for cyclists, in order to grab the money whilst producing routes unsuitable for most cyclists for much of the year.

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chrisonabike replied to the little onion | 1 year ago
0 likes

Yep - quite common and a lovely self-fulfilling situation.  "We put chippings down last time with money from the active travel budget.  Since there are no cyclists we'll just do the same elsewhere.  Looks lovely, doesn't it..."

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Hirsute replied to the little onion | 1 year ago
0 likes

Gave rise to the story on here of a cyclist being told they don't pay boat tax !

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