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Are there too many categories of surface? #3282
Back To Discussion List Written: 2010.05.31 by: Robin Tivy

At present, we make a distinction between High clearance 4WD versus low clearance 4WD versus graded or 2WD. The suggestion is that we could have less categories, in fact, get rid of the clearance distinction altogether, and only have 3 categories of road:

  maintained gravel

However, that is not enough. For example consider the Indian River road, and my recent trip to Bagpipe. The status of a big part of the road is "Unmaintained". But you can drive all the way to the pass with any 4WD. (As compared to the upper brandwine road, which requires a more serious vehicle than a subaru.) So I have found these distinctions very useful, because that means I can go and do trips up there with my Subaru. Now I realize that some other person might make a slight error and call it High 4WD, but nobody who reads the definitions will go so far wrong as to call it "graded" (because it does have waterbars).

So 3 categories is not enough. There are too many subdivisions of "unmaintained". There are lots of unmaintained roads that are plain 2wd, lots of good dirt roads that are not gravel, and so on. These distinctions are the most important when planning trips.

And of course, I'd read the bulletins as well. Don't get me wrong - I would never suggest replacing bulletins with that field. Bulletins are the backbone of the whole system, and the more detailed they are, the better. If nothing else, the "surface" field is a good reminder to precisely report on the surface of the road or trail. During the cleanup, I found dozens of roads which had 6 or 8 bulletins, but none of them described the surface. Now at least people have something to disagree with, or more precisely describe (or comment on). I would love to see bulletins that argue with the "surface" classification of a given road. For example: "There is no way that road xxx should be 2WD because I got stuck with my jacked up pickup at km 3.2, and here are the photos...".


#1432 - 2010.06.03 Robin Tivy - "Condition" field already exists for free form expansion of "surface"
This is my response to Scott Nelson's posting suggesting a "free form field" for people to learn the conditions of the road". What he is asking for is exactly the function of the "Condition" field, which has been in use for years in the road records. The condition field allows you to quickly summarize how the condition of a road varies with its length. Thus it can be used to get around the problems that Paul Kubik raised about the Brandwine Road. I just went and checked what was written about the Brandywine Road for "condition" and it certainly could be improved. All it said was:

"There's lots of slogging in winter on both roads. This area is also popular with snowmobiles."

So I improved it simply by pasting in the information that Paul Kubik provided in his earlier "I give up" posting: "Brandywine is graded at the start. It deteriorates as you go higher. In winter, the snow surface is chewed up by frequent snowmobiles."

In general, I think there is a problem with the field help messages. (1) some of them are poorly written, and (2) some editors do not make a habit of reading them.

To address the first part of the problem, I just carefully overhauled the help description for "condition". Go to any Road page and click on the field label for "condition", and tell me what you think. In general, let's increase the focus on those help messages.

Also, note that at the top of each data input form, there is a link titled "Help Fields". Use this to review all the help messages for a given data record. For the road record, the fields are now sorted in the same sequence as they are on the data form.

#1431 - 2010.06.02 Scott Nelson - Free form text field?
If the goal is to have a "quick summary" for people to look to learn the conditions of the road and how far they can expect to drive their particular vehicle, why not a simple free form text field? That way it can be set to "2wd to 5.2km then high clearance 4x4 to the end". Or "Well graded for it's entire length". This allows every road to be described concisely and accurately without being split up.

#1430 - 2010.06.02 Robin Tivy
Although I agree that it's always best to study all the bulletins, I still think the "quick summary" surface field is also useful. And it is more useful to have several categories, not just a catch-all like "unmaintained". Also someone pointed out to me that we don't really care about the maintenance status, what people care is "Is this road any use to me with my car".

There are lots of roads that are not maintained, but are 2WD roads or low 4WD. I don't think a single "unmaintained" is as useful as saying 2WD, Low4WD, High4WD. Another example is Chalco creek road.

#1428 - 2010.06.01 Scott Nelson - Stawamus-Indian Example
"Unmaintained" is meant as a catch all category. You have to read the bulletins to actually figure out how far you can drive up it in your particular vehicle. This is actually true whether the road is classified as 2wd, LC4x4 or HC4x4 or undriveable or one of the other more detailed surface classes. At least with "unmaintained" we don't have to argue about which category the road belongs in.

#1423 - 2010.06.01 Robin Tivy - Brandwine is not a candidate for splitting
Brandywine is not over 20 km long, it is only 10 km long, so it would not be split. I have never proposed splitting short roads up into little segments. See the Road and trail Design Journal.

#1418 - 2010.06.01 Scott Nelson - How I use surface and road class fields
I ignore them and read the bulletins

#1416 - 2010.06.01 Dean Richards - Fine as it is
I think the most common use of bulletins is "reached the 8.5km before hitting snow" or "washout at first bridge". Which is fine. Yearly differences can only be identified in bulletins, but let's not rely on each bulletin to give their own analysis on the class, surface, and quality of the road, because it just won't happen. How far the road was clear to and what they drove is about all we can expect. The road surface/class field can always be changed if there is a permanent change to the road. I don't agree that all roads change year to year. Also, as has been mentioned, the more options for a given field means the more accuracy we're going achieve. If there's 7 options, being 1 off isn't as bad as being 1 off when there's 4 options and you're 1 off. I think the class and surface fields are fine as they are. Too few variables means more second-guessing, in my opinion.

#1411 - 2010.06.01 Paul Kubik - More absurdity. I give up.
Brandywine is graded at the start. It deteriorates as you go higher. Everyone expects that. Your solution is to split the road up into segments. Your solution is flawed, leads to more maintenance. Won't be able to find bulletins. Won't be able to determine the correct segment to insert bulletin. Blah, blah, blah.

#1397 - 2010.05.11 Scott Nelson - Get rid of clearance distinction altogether
The condition of these resource spur roads change frequently, often from year to year, so I see the bulletins as the best way to communicate this information. Also, the start of the road is often very different from the end and it's important to describe where the cross ditches or alder begin. I would suggest a blanket designation such as "deactivated" or "unmaintained" for any road that has cross ditches or is becoming overgrown with alder. That would make for just 3 categories of roads - "paved" "maintained gravel" and "unmaintained".