Caltrop menace

Watch out for Caltrop…. (More links here) I have switched to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires to avoid having flats. It […]

Watch out for Caltrop…. (More links here)

I have switched to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires to avoid having flats. It is a declared weed, which means councils are obliged to remove it. Use “Neatstreets” to report, or 138138 (MainroadsWA)

Stirling Council has embarked on a trial to control caltrop, but beyond that the menace is growing.

Bruce Robinson from the Cyclist Action Group reminds Main Roads WA that this is  the time of the year to take action on Caltrop :

Caltrop 3

Letter to Steve Troughton,Managing Director,Main Roads

Possible Governance Problem:  Cyclepath maintenance contracts

Dear Mr Troughton,

I would like to bring to your attention problems with the maintenance of Main Roads’ important network of cyclepaths (Principal Shared Paths).

The PSP network is a very important part of Perth’s bicycle network, and maintenance of the paths is a vital link.

We have been told over the years that there are maintenance contracts which outsource the maintenance of Main Roads cyclepaths.  I understand that there are regular inspections of all the PSPs for problems.

There are a number of generic problems which seem to escape notice in these inspections.  These include very rough sections, often caused by tree root damage, and poor resurfacing.

The major demonstrable shortcoming with the PSP maintenance is its failure to notice and remove Caltrop Puncture Vine.  This is a summer-growing weed, which sheds hundreds of multi-spiked thorns, and is a major source of bicycle punctures if it becomes widespread.

In January 2013, I personally removed some 150 caltrop plants, (some very large)  from the PSPs between Bassendean and Cottesloe.  These clearly had not been noticed or removed by the so-called maintenance.

Yesterday, I did a survey of the PSP alongside the Kwinana Freeway, from Canning Bridge to the Narrows.  I recorded 44 separate caltrop plants growing beside the PSP (between the freeway pavement and the PSP), some as big as 2 metres across.  The easterly winds and the gusts from passing vehicles can easily blow the drying seeds onto the bikepath.    However, the plants are easy to remove, so I wonder why they are still there.  Of course, a 2-metre wide caltrop plant does not appear overnight, so presumably most of the plants have been there for some considerable time.

Today, I recorded a smaller number (7) caltrop puncture-vine plants along the PSP from Claremont station to Grant St station. Again, some are quite large (1-2 metres across)

I ask that you investigate the compliance of the contractors with the contract and, if need be, vary the contract so they are obliged to inspect the PSPs regularly for Caltrop Puncture Vine.  Personally, I think the current contract is ineffective and probably a serious waste of money.  I also raise here the possible problem of a lack of supervision of the path maintenance contract by Main Roads staff, especially as the staff responsible may not be regular path users, so they may perhaps share with the contractors a “windscreen-shaped” view of the world, and hence overlook problems which however are blindingly obvious to cyclists.  The failure of the contractors to notice Caltrop plants is probably just one aspect of an apparently unsatisfactory contractual arrangement

Some suggestions for future contractors

(a)     Training on Caltrop recognition is essential.  Contracting staff should also be required to demonstrate acceptable levels of visual acuity, so they can reliably recognise Caltrop in the field.

(b)    Caltrop is difficult to recognise unless one has one’s eye in, and I cannot reliably detect Caltrop when riding my bicycle at normal path speeds.  When I slow down to say less than 20 kmh, it becomes much easier to spot.

(c)    It is essential to record the location of Caltrop outbreaks, so they can be inspected later in the summer for fresh germination, and in subsequent years for regrowth.

(d)   I think it is very hard to inspect paths from behind the wheel of a big 4WD utility or similar.  This is because the bonnet of the vehicle obstructs vision of the path close the vehicle and only allows a long-distance view.   A cyclist, by comparison, looks at the path immediately in front of the front wheel of the bicycle or beside it.

(e)    Rather than having two people in a big vehicle, it would seem far more effective, as well as much cheaper, to have a single person, on a bike with a trailer, and carrying say a brushpan and broom to remove broken glass, and carrying a roll of rubbish-bags in which to place any Caltrop plants detected.  A bicycle-mounted path inspection system would of course be greatly appreciated by users, rather than the current distant and elitist approach of only using motorised vehicles, which are out of place on cyclepaths except in exceptional circumstances.

The Cyclists’ Action Group has been expressing concern to Main Roads about Caltrop along the PSPs for a considerable number of years, but there seems to be no discernable improvement in the  quality of the maintenance of the PSPs, as evidenced by the number of plants which can be easily seen, just on the couple of paths I have mentioned.    Volunteer work by individual cyclists (such as my effort a year ago, and those by Councillor Norman) is probably doing more to remove Caltrop from PSPs than the expensive maintenance contracts.  Indeed, it may well be far better to consider outsourcing path maintenance to individual cyclists or to cycling organisations rather than to an unfeeling and probably ineffectual large engineering organisation

We ask that you look into the governance of the PSP maintenance contracts, and take steps to improve the situation, especially about Caltrop Puncture Vine detection and removal.

Yours sincerely

Bruce Robinson
Cyclists’ Action Group
2 Barsden St,
Cottesloe  WA  6011, Australia
61-8-9384-7409    0427 398 708

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