Thursday, September 28, 2006

Concrete Example

Blair Stone Road and Governor's Blvd

"Even the hardest concrete never quite sets." - Spinal Tap

Concrete companies have a very special place in the city. It turns out, you can't build a whole lot of infrastructure without concrete. Sidewalks, driveways, overpasses, slabs for houses, and even street curbs all involve a good bit of concrete. It's one of those things we just can't grow the city without.

What we could do without is the concrete spills on the road that pile up randomly, harden and create roadway hazards. There are big nasty ones like the lump in the right-hand northbound lane of Monroe Street just north of Gaines and there are annoying ones like on Myers Park Drive, just west of the train tracks near the DOT building. If you look for them, you'll see concrete spills all over town.

Unlike the cigarette butts and fast food debris that comes out of other types of vehicles, concrete is very hard to clean up. The longer it sits, the harder it is to clean up, which is why reporting a concrete spill is important to do right away. The local concrete companies have set up a rotating schedule of responsibility for cleaning up concrete spills. When it's their turn, they are supposed to clean up the mess, even if they didn't make it.

I don't know whose turn it was a month ago when I noticed a spill on my commute home from work. It started at the corner of Blair Stone Road and Governor's Park Blvd and went all the way to Mahan. It was mostly just drips and it was mostly cleaned up. So kudos to the quick cleanup crew. You can still see the concrete drips, but they are only skin deep and don't pose a hazard for most of the distance. However, the job isn't complete.

I had called Streets and Drainage two weeks ago about the remaining large and dangerous lump of concrete at the southeast corner of Blair Stone and Governor's Blvd. It's near the bottom of a fast hill in the right lane, exactly where I'm flying down the hill at 30 mph on my way home. Very dangerous. The other problem is in the bike lane going over the train tracks between Park and Mahan. As soon as the pavement changes from asphalt to concrete, the cleanup stopped. The concrete blankets the bike lane.

Blobs of concrete in the bike lane on Blair Stone overpass

Or it did blanket the bike lane until the heavy rain we had last week. That caused the concrete to pill up into rocky blobs. The situation went from annoying to hazardous. So I called Streets and Drainage again today (The phone number is 891-5300.) and asked if there was any follow-up. No. I call them, they see whose turn it is to clean up the mess, they call that company. That's the end of it. So we not only have to identify spills right away, but we have to hound them until it's cleaned up.

When I say we, I mean you and I, the road users. Bicyclists are affected more than motorists for two reasons. 1) Small bumps that car drivers don't notice can cause serious problems for our smaller wheels. 2) The chutes on cement mixers that drip concrete on the road usually drip toward the curb, exactly where we are riding.

I don't know whether to curse the concrete companies or applaud them. Is it so hard to clean out the chute before driving around? Can't they design a cement mixer that doesn't drip? Since they know it's an ongoing problem, can't they be more careful about preventing it? On the other hand, what other businesses acknowledge their messes and clean them up like this? What other drivers who make messes on the road are ever held to account and forced to clean up after themselves?

When is a concrete spill too old to clean up? Fresh ones can be scooped up with a shovel. Some old ones will be around until the roads get resurfaced. How about the spill on Blair Stone? It's about a month old. How much effort does it take to clean up? I took a hammer to the big lump at Blair Stone and Governor's Blvd. In less than five minutes it was a pile of crumbles. I spent a minute of that standing out of the road to let traffic pass. If I had had a chisel, it would have gone even faster.

Concrete spill before demolition

Same spill five minute later

Those hazardous blobs up on the overpass? A gentle tap with a hammer knocks them loose. They would probably clean up pretty quickly with a shovel.

Blobs come up easily with a hammer

We've got a lot invested in our bicycle infrastructure. We have to participate in the design process to get bike lanes planned and funded, follow up to make sure they get built, and then continue to be vigilant so they don't get clogged with debris and hazards like lumps of concrete. Keep your eyes open on the road and report any hazards or debris to Streets and Drainage at 891-5300. Also, let other bicyclists know about the hazards so they can watch out and follow up.

UPDATE (10/21/06): As of Friday, the concrete spill on the Blair Stone bridge has been addressed. It is not completely cleaned up, but someone made a good effort. I suspect it was Streets and Drainage. I sent an email to all of the city commissioners. Thanks to those responsible. I originally posted this on September 28. I called Streets & Drainage twice and emailed them once through the City's Mean Streets site. None of that got action, but I emailed the commission on Tuesday and had a resolution on Friday. Thank you Commissioner Gillum, the one commissioner whose office replied to my email.


Blogger hoodwalker said...

I've figured out the answer to one question. "How old is concrete before it can be cleaned up?" The answer is that each concrete company will clean up spills that happened on their watch, but they won't clean up spills that are older than that.

How do they know which ones happened on their watch? Selective memory.

8:25 AM  

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