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Thread: Alternative pavements: cobbles

  1. #1
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    Alternative pavements: cobbles

    Cobblestone roadways are used extensively in Europe. Why are they not used on modern American urban roadways?

    When contrasted to the conventional pavement--asphalt, what are the major differences that make all streets paved with asphalt. There are some clear and obvious advantages to asphalt being quick to lay down, cheap to make, and easy to patch. But its disadvantages are clear too, it has relatively short design life (20 years generally iirc) and old asphalt gets patchy, bumpy, and just down right ugly.

    Assuming that the cost of the subgrade is comparable between cobble roadways and asphalt roadways why don't we see at least some cobble roadways being built? A common answer to my question is that cobbles aren't nice to drive on but everyone who says that hasn't driven in Paris or other largely cobbled cities. Although I can't offer a decibel rating between the two I can remember having no such thoughts when driving in Europe.

    Some advantages that I can see for cobbles over asphalt are that the design life would almost have to be longer than 20 years, or less than 20 years for the same cost of material (assuming the subgrade isn't remade after each repaving of asphalt). If designed right cobbles wouldn't deform like asphalt and when it needs to be patched there isn't an eyesore patch left in the place of the pothole. If it the street needs to be repaved the cobbles can be removed and used on another project. Laying cobbles would be time intensive compared to asphalt but it would require less maintenance. Besides, they are aesthetically attractive to look at.

    So let me reiterate my question, why are cobbles never used on modern American roadways?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    I see you refer to asphal as "bumpy", while that is the case I fail to see how a cobbleroad is not bumpy as well.

    Now, onto the question. To my cynical mind, cobble is not used in America as typical American roads are designed for the comfort of the automobile. Try proposing a cobble road and most likely people's concern for the suspension on their Buick will take precident. Also the instant gratification of quick road making using big machines appeals to a lot of highway engineers with big egos and "something" that needs compensation. .

    Never mid the fact that cobble can be used for traffic calming and to add a "kitchy" element of old timely-ness and nostalgia.

    I am scared to ride a bike over cobble though, particularly my road bike. I have enough trouble with rumble strips along state highways.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I would be interested to see what a smooth cobble road looks like (any pics you can link to?). Growing up near Philadelphia, I do have experience driving on cobble roads. Philadelphia has many in the Olde City area (if not all of them - some have been paved over, but when the asphalt cracks, you can still see them under there). In Philly, at least, many are VERY bumpy and jarring - not a very pleasant driving experience at all. But perhaps this is not typical of what can be don with cobble. I do recognize that there is a great maintenance advantage because you can easily remove selected sections to get access below the roadway, whereas asphalt will require jackhammers, burly men, and probably lots of cursing. And they will have to pave it back over - using yet more equipment - as opposed to just replacing the removed cobbles. Its the same reason a brick floor is a better idea for radiant floor heating than embedding it in concrete. If something bursts down there, access is much easier with brick.

    My other question is about cobble material as a resource. My understanding of Philadelphia (and probably most of the colonial era eastern seaboard port cities) is that they used cobble because there was so much of it piling up at the ports. The ships coming from Europe brought them as ballast and dumped them in the Americas when they loaded up with raw materials to take home. So, there were a lot of these laying around, making for a cheap paving material, which was badly needed in these fast growing port cities.

    I am assuming if one went this route today that they would have to make them new from a quarry, yes? What would the impact (environmental, energy to make, etc.) and cost of that be compared to asphalt?

    One last point: bear in mind that the US is much, much bigger than any individual European country (save for Russia) and so the feasibility of using cobbles on a widespread basis introduces some additional issues of resource, scale and cost that small countries may not deal with. I also assume the these types of streets persist in Europe, at least to some degree, because they were already there from eras past (though may have been modified/improved). To what extent do European countries use cobble in paving new streets? Where does the material come from? (quarries? is it reclaimed from other sources?) Are these roads smooth enough to sustain high speed driving, or are we talking mainly about residential streets here?
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    Cyburbian Captain Worley's avatar
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    My dad was a highway engineer for many years, so I can answer this one for you. Cobblestone is very expensive, very rough on tires, doesn't hold up well to heavy trucks, and is unacceptably slippery when wet.
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  5. #5
    Cobblestones are also difficult for people with disabilities to cross.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Gekkoda View post
    So let me reiterate my question, why are cobbles never used on modern American roadways?
    Sorry, but I would say they're not used in Europe on "modern" roadways. We still replace cobble streets with cobble in certain heritage and conservation areas, but they are expensive, often require special contractors - not part of the standard matainenance routine - and difficult for accessibility (wheelchairs, pushchairs etc). It's also a real pain for cyclists. On the other hand, it is good for traffic calming.

    What we DO do that I've not seen in the few US cities I'm familiar with is Granite Setts and the like. Particularly in pedestrianised areas and shared pedestrian/vehicle space... quite expensive by very nice. The only thing that bothers me is that one then gets delivery vehicles dropping oil on the gorgeous setts...

  7. #7
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    There are some clear and obvious advantages to asphalt being quick to lay down, cheap to make, and easy to patch.
    Considering that most local politicians and PW departments work on year-to-year budgets, often times the quick, cheap and easy is chosen over expensive and durable.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Rem's avatar
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    Asphalt Alternative?

    Does anyone have experience with this treatment?

    Not cobbles, no longer asphalt

  9. #9
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Well my belgium friend tells me is wrecks his tyres.

    I found walking in Europe it wrecks my high heels
    "Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?" Zoolander

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    A pedestrian improvement project that I worked on considered using cobblestones to delineate the cross walks from the roadway. However they didn't pass muster for ADA and cost purposes so we settled on colored stamped concrete instead.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  11. #11
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by natski View post
    Well my belgium friend tells me is wrecks his tyres.

    I found walking in Europe it wrecks my high heels
    Don't you mean hygh heels?
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  12. #12
    Rubber-tired vehicles running over cobbles are surprisingly loud.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Captain Worley's avatar
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    FWIW, the Big Three automakers still use Belgium cobble to torture test new car compnents. That doesn't speak well for the cobbles.
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  14. #14
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    It is also a material that is hard to standardize and so there fore it would be hard to use on state and federal roadways.

    It sure looks freaking cool though i would have to get a Hypermotard to be happy cycling on the stuff.
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    Ok so there have been a lot of answers to my quandary. But I'm not ready to give up on cobbles, yet. It seems that we have three main complaints about cobbles.

    1. Cobbles are bumpy, so bumpy that it is hard on car tires, bikes (not to mention roller blades), elderly, and wheelchairs. Cars moving over the bumpiness are loud (as well as all the complaining about having to walk over them).

    2. Cobbles don't hold up well to heavy trucks. I suppose that means they shift and move creating ruts and disrupting the design plane.

    3. Cobbles are expensive and scarce.

    I can still see very real and very useful applications for cobbles. Consider residential areas in urban scenes where it can be difficult to get large machinery in to repair the streets. Crosswalks of concrete can be made for the handicapped. Cars shouldn't be moving fast enough to wear them out nor to create enough sound that it is disrupting to those near by. There are many streets in cities that shouldn't ever--or very rarely--have very heavy trucks on them. Besides I think with some design and maybe r&d a subgrade could be developed to minimize or eliminate shifting cobbles.

    Granted in America securing several hundred thousand cobbles may be expensive, we don't have the industry. But I know that they can be bought from china. But as demand rises so does the industry and when the industry rises the price lowers, basic economics.


    Let me list some benefits that I can identify with cobbles.

    1. As we've discussed the maintenance of cobbles roadways would be simpler if not cheaper (less manpower and machinery).

    2. Cobbles wouldn't need to be replaced in mass except once every millennia or so rather than every 20 years. The lifespan of the roadway would probably be limited on the subgrade and how well it held up (usually the case with asphalt too I suppose). There is less waste in maintenance, less waste, less resources being used period and thus more 'environmental'.

    3. I guess I don't have a third one off the top of my head .

    Obviously the larger the roadway the less desirable is cobblestone. That is, a cobble interstate would be a bad idea. But cobble downtown or residential streets may be a good idea.




    @maryindevon, I to love the granit sets and would love to see those more commonly used in America. I have seen them generally in larger cities. I find concrete curbs to be ugly partly because they invariably crack and flake off.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gekkoda View post
    1. Cobbles are bumpy, so bumpy that it is hard on car tires, bikes (not to mention roller blades), elderly, and wheelchairs. Cars moving over the bumpiness are loud (as well as all the complaining about having to walk over them).
    Because they are bumpy, cars tend to SLOW DOWN significantly over cobbles, which improves safety.

    I’ve biked half my infancy over cobbles. If they are well-maintained they’re not a problem, especially with today’s much better bike builds. Crossing points may bw helpful for VERY unsteady walkers.

    Quote Originally posted by Gekkoda View post
    3. I guess I don't have a third one off the top of my head .

    Obviously the larger the roadway the less desirable is cobblestone. That is, a cobble interstate would be a bad idea. But cobble downtown or residential streets may be a good idea.
    Beauty?

    I think cobbles belong in largely residential streets or pedestrianized/semi-pedestrianized areas
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  17. #17
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    In the Hungarian Cities I know, cobbles are generally used in inner city city areas for local streets and squares. I have never found them to be especially difficult to walk on. At reasonable city speeds they are not especially noisy. They can be very attractive, especally if laid in patterns as is frequently done.

    One great advantage is the way unser roadway repairs can be made. Just pull up the minimum amount to dig down, fix the pipe, fill and pack back the subbase and relay the cobbles.
    The big disadvantage is labor. It takes a guy or two longer to put back than calling in the asphalt truck and tamping down a patch, that will always be obvious and most likely at least a bit rough. I'm not sure it takes longer to pull up cobbles than it does to jackhammer through a typical roadway. It does avoid a lot of heavy equipment on site.

    As to the issue of availability - Most of the cobble street are 100s of years old and the same cobbles are used over and over. Most appear to be granite. I've seen some minor amout of new cobble construction, but there is an increasing use of concrete pavers.

    Here labor is a real concern. We find it less expensive to buy a $100,000 peice of equipment that will allow the layoff of one or two craftsmen. Perhaps because in the US, the cost of labor includes wages + SS tax, unemployment tax, and the cost of providing medical insurance. In much of Europe I think that the cost that the businessman (or government entity) looks at is just wage. The rest is covered in the universal health care and retirement system. I've not done a study of that, however.

  18. #18
    cobble stone pavement may have advantages in terms of repair of underground ducts: take a few out, and grab a shovel! with asphalt plaster, if's by far not that easy.
    that's why, in germany, it's common to pave repaired pieces with cobbles, and replace these with asphalt later, when some major makeover comes closer.
    furtheron, cobble stone pavement was, indeed, frequently used in residential quarters, to enforce 30 kmh zones. however, public buses and emergency services complained heavily (berlin moabit case), and so did cyclists, so that these days they take advantage of different gauges of a car and a bus, introducing rail-like narrow stripes of asphalt, while the rest of the drive is cobble paved.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    I saw a movie a day or so ago and noticed the cobbles were larger than those I am familiar with. Looked like the larger cobble caused a more pronounced "hump and valley" effect. Thus it would likely be rougher for traffic and harder to bike over.

    The US had many Brick streets (even a few country roads) years ago. They gave way primarily due to labor cost to lay them.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    In the 1980s (dunno now) there were a few blocks of brick-paved streets in Lawrernce KS (inthe old streets just west of mass Street). Very nice.
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    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    the bike nazis will never go for it

    The bike racers will love it

    But seriously, good luck finding the public works crew that will lay this new road, and then maintain it.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian b3nr's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gekkoda View post
    Cobblestone roadways are used extensively in Europe. Why are they not used on modern American urban roadways?

    So let me reiterate my question, why are cobbles never used on modern American roadways?
    I saw brick cobbles in America, but the cobbles in Bristol (and most EU cities i have been too) seem to be shaped natural local stone (i'm not a geologist, no idea what type).

    They are very rarely laid on new roads simply becuase of the cost, but are used in urban design projects for aesthetic reasons. When it rains, safety is an issue; even at 20mph a car will find it tough to stop quickly! But as Luca points out, this is mitigated because of lower traffic speeds.

    The main reason we have cobbles here is becuase they have been here for a very long time and there is no reason to replace them. In many inner city victorian residential areas the road is still cobbled underneath the layer of asphalt, if removed, they tend to be re-used elsewhere. In the city centre they tend be used in low traffic areas.

    'Cobble style' concrete is often used in higher traffic areas becuase it looks vaguley more attractive and slows traffic without needing to resort to speed bumps and hard measures.

    But basically they continue to be used becuase they are already there... they were the best surface before asphalt came along.

    Heres a good example. Theres just no point in getting rid of it.

    Last edited by b3nr; 11 Jun 2008 at 8:54 AM.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    I think a lot of good points have been made about the cons to cobblestone roads, I will add that if installed correctly with a solid base they provide a very durable surface... That said still a lot of other issue when comparing that to concrete. In the neighborhood I live in a portion of the subdivision is modeled after a Croatian Village and they are stamping the concrete to resemble a cobblestone road. Its not quite the look, but its not bad. I think they could have done a better job at the seems between the joints, but I guess it is what it is... Concrete not cobblestone, LOL. See the concrete in front of the rsidences...


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