The science is clear: pitch-black surfaces from curb to curb increase the heat.
CITY OF VICTORIA WORK CREWS and their vehicles have filled my city block for the last couple of weeks. Mine is a long block and new turquoise pipes are being installed in order to address an aging water system. To complete this work, a corridor of pavement has been picked up. When the job is completed in the next few weeks, I want the City to reseal the corridor but not repave the entire block.
Why? Won’t it beautify the street to have a fresh-looking road of new blacktop?
While fresh blacktop may look pretty and neat to some, it doesn’t to me.
As someone who walks a lot in my neighbourhood, I know the difference between my block with older, weathered blacktop and two nearby blocks with new pitch-black surfaces from curb to curb.
The difference? Heat. And a whole lot of it.
The contrast between the blocks is not a feeling or a whim or an idle fancy of mine. There is science behind the difference, and US cities are already involved in an attempt to make blacktop less black.
In late spring 2023, city crews in San Antonio, Texas, applied five different products to thousand-foot sections of road across the city. As reported in a July 2023 Globe and Mail article, the idea was to lighten the black asphalt so that it reflected back the sun’s rays rather than absorbed all of the heat. The result? Cooler roads.
The work was timely. This summer San Antonio smashed heat records, temperatures climbing 66 times to 37.8 degrees Celsius.
The technology of road “lightening” has been likened to sunscreen for streets. Its formal name is “cool pavement.” It is not cheap, but the science is sound. Research studies at Arizona State University and the City of Phoenix, as reported in a 2021 Scientific American article, show an application of “reflective, gray-colored emulsion material” to black asphalt results in a temperature of drop 2.4 degrees Celsius. Phoenix is just another US city involved in the work to lighten its blacktop in attempt to ameliorate rising temperatures.
Rather than have the City of Victoria back fit my street at some point with a “sunscreen” when our City breaks too many more heat records, I have an ask.
Please leave my old road topping—which has greyed over time—as it is. Mend the road by simply covering the seam left by the excavation.
Honour the science. Do the right thing and don’t completely resurface my block.
Allow the children, the adults, and the dogs on my street to sing our gratitude to you for protecting us from unnecessary heat.
Moira Walker, MFA, is a retired Camosun College instructor. An oral storyteller, she’s told stories at The Flame, UNO Festival, and Royal BC Museum.