Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Pavements of Asbury Park

Buried Treasure

The Asbury Park boardwalk is built out of wood. This is worth mentioning because Ocean Grove, to the south, has started laying in planks made out of plastic. Coney Island in New York has also done this. And the new boardwalk on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia is made out of reinforced concrete.

I'm okay with these new materials, but it got me thinking about the idea that modern roads are almost always paved in asphalt. It was not ever thus. Roads could be paved in wood. We actually still have one in Philadelphia, on Camac Street. It's currently under a protective layer of asphalt because of some drainage issues, but I'm told that the wood will come back to daylight soon. And of course there have been cobblestones and Belgian block and brick.

I was thinking of this as I was walking along Park Avenue in Asbury Park, near Deal Lake Drive. I'd noticed for some time that the asphalt near the curbstone was often missing, revealing a layer of brick pavement. I'd never thought about it very much. I started looking closer.

This particular stretch of street hasn't been repaved in a while, and large parts of the wearing course of asphalt are missing, particularly at the edge of the street. One of the reasons for this is that the wearing course of asphalt - the top layer of pavement - is often less than an inch thick over the bricks. In the cartway of the street, where the cars go, it is generally about 1 3/4 inches. There were enough potholes to allow me to measure this quite a few times.

In summary, under the curb-to-curb slathering of asphalt there is an old road. At the edge, where the cars park, there is brick. Then there is a single line of Belgian block, which separates the brick shoulder from the cartway. Under the asphalt on the cartway there is a dense mixture of blond sand and round beach pebbles. Back in the day you would lay this down and then drive over it with a steamroller, and call it a macadam road. Then, later on, you could put a thin layer of asphalt on top and call it tarmac. I hope I got that right.

I felt like I'd discovered an old Roman road. This street in Asbury Park was blond macadam in the middle and red brick at the edge, with a thin strip of grey Belgian block separating the two. Imagine what that would have looked like.

I'm not suggesting that we abandon asphalt and return to macadam. But our roads were not always wall-to-wall black asphalt. Visually, we had lost something on Park Avenue. The street used to be more interesting to look at. And frankly, as the asphalt disintegrates, we're getting back to a very good place. Need to work on the sod.

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