Orange Barrels and Incremental Urbanism


Welcome to summer and orange barrel season. Orange barrels can be a sign to more then just more asphalt, they can be a sign to something better. These round soldiers may be alerting you to an incremental project.

There are several ways for communities to repave their roads. In my area, it is common to mill down the top layer of asphalt, and then repave a fresh layer of asphalt. This process provides an opportunity to improve conditions.

Several questions can be raised when your community is grinding down their streets.

  1. Do we have to repave or replace all the asphalt existing today? Believe it or not, most of our roads are too wide. Years of maintenance, or just over building have led to extremely wide travel lanes. These wider lanes result in higher roadway speeds, increased stormwater runoff, and additional maintenance costs. Simple ideas like repaving only the lanes you need can save communities millions. You do not need to repave the whole road for the sake of paving.
  2. Can we stripe it differently? If your roads are bring repaved, then you have to also re-stripe the street. When the road is re-striped, there are numerous opportunities to improve place. You can reduce lane widths to match the community context, stripe new on street parking, or bike lanes. 
  3. Does the street drain properly? While living in Florida, it was not uncommon to get several inches of rain in an hour, and stormwater management is a key element to every project in my area. Repaving provides the opportunity to grade a road to drain. Asphalt contractors can do amazing work to add elevation or remove elevations. If you have a stormwater system, you can also add curbing for a minimal cost prior to repaving.
  4. Are there additional needs? A paved road should last over 30 years, so when you are repaving, now is the time to address other community issues. This may include utility expansion, drain pipe maintenance, new curbing, or anything that would require you to cut and patch the asphalt. For example, on a recent project we added 300 feet of valley gutter at the edge of pavement. We did this because we knew that within the next 3 years, we would be making improvements between the edge of pavement and the right of way. It has not been decided whether on-street parking, landscaping, or stormwater management would be placed in this area. By adding the curb now, we provided a clean edge for the future improvement.
  5. Is the road actually in the center of the right of way? Paving originally occurred where people were driving. In older communities, the pavement may favor one side of the right of way, which on the surface may not be a big deal. As your community advances from rural and suburban roads to more urban sections, this becomes a problem. When you are repaving, it is worth checking this. It is actually amazing to see what happens when the center lines of roads align. Intersections begin to fit in the right of way, adequate spacing is provided for sidewalks and street trees, and the remaining right of way opens itself to future opportunities of investment. 

The point of all of this is to make simple improvements through the standard maintenance and upkeep of your community. Repaving does not have to be the ultimate urban intervention, it is simply one step on the path to better placemaking.