Last year Cambridge trialled Starpath – a path that coating that absorbs and stores UV rays during the day and then releases them at night, allowing particles to glow in the dark. We caught up with Hamish Scott, managing director of Pro-Teq Surfacing – the company behind Starpath – to see whether we can expect to see glow in the dark cycle paths near us soon…
BikeBiz: Starpath was being trialled in Cambridge last year. Have any other areas taken it on?
HS: Yes, and in Cambridge that particular park where we trialled it now has several 'Starpaths'. We've moved from trialling Starpath to commercially offering it and they are working really well. The light comes from the surface. It's hard to describe, it's a different type of light…
Starpath reacts to conditions, so if there's full moonlight it won't be as bright…?
Correct. In some parks we've had requests to put them in, but they've got lights everywhere so it's wasting their time – that would be like having streetlights on in the day. But it's going to be great for many areas. In some places they are thinking 'hang on, we've got lots of lights here, can we turn some of them off?' That is a major step forward.
In the beginning we were nervous as to what the public would think. But we've seen students lying on the paths and photographing it - it has been a bit crazy. And there is so much we can do with this technology, the opportunities are vast. For cyclists it is absolutely brilliant.
We have many Starpaths being trialled in all different places: East Sussex, Newcastle, Southampton, Derby…councils are starting to say 'OK, we'll take a look'.
The thing to remember is that we're not just providing a bit of light, we are also repairing path surfaces. It doesn't involve trucks digging up your pathways and we can do it fast. After 30 minutes of putting the top coat on it is dry and we can open up that part of the park again. Ealing, Hammesmaith and Fulham...loads of different places are trying it.
There was talk that Boris Johnson had registered his interest?
I'm not too sure, but he should be! Many people are interested, including people quite high up in planning in the Netherlands and other places where cycling is strong. We've got quite a few people flying in and going to Cambridge and to see it with their own eyes. It is really hard to explain unless you see it with your own eyes. It is a different type of light. It was quite subtle for the trial, but now when you are on a star path you know it - but not in a bad way.
We are listening to the public and what they want, and we think we have found a happy medium, but the scope is vast for the technology.
So could you make the Starpaths even brighter if someone called for it?
That is correct. But we feel it is about right now. We don't give off any light pollution - which is obviously a major factor.
It is really pleasant to walk on, you can see everything on the surface of the path. Because it is flexible you shouldn't get any of the cracks or pot holes and because of the low viscosity coat we put on the surface, chewing gum and things like that don't stick to them. Councils spend so much money on removing chewing gum.
How does it compare with putting in street lights? Well obviously there is an initial cost, but there is with installing street lights and then the amount of power burning, the co2 being used up night after night with street lights...I think councils are slowly getting it.
It is frustrating when people make comments and say it is less safe. Have they seen it? They have to go and see it themselves.
We've been absolutely inundated with enquiries since you and the cycle press covered it. That was brilliant and showed that cycling people are very interested.
What about the National Cycle Network that covers the UK? Starpath could potentially be used there?
Absolutely! The good thing is we can give you lovely decorative stone in the day - or one colour going one way and another the other way, natural stones, whatever you like. We've even had people from Walt Disney coming to talk to us about using it in their parks.
They have people working on similar technology but when they saw what we have they said we were years ahead of where they were.
We're not claiming you'll never fall off your bike because you are on one of our Starpaths, but we are saying you can see a bit better and people can see you coming. You can see people walking on the path and for cycle paths that are in the pitch black - that is where Starpath is most effective and can make a real difference.
How long was Starpath in the works for?
I've been working with it on and off for three or four years now. Our technology has improved but the original pathways look the same as when we laid them three years ago. We don't offer long guarantees yet - we don't want to say there's a 10 year guarantee until our paths have gone on that long.
Our problem is that we don't have funding from anyone so we are a bit slower than we'd like.
So are you looking for more backing?
Oh yes - come and see it. Some support would be nice! People have really picked up on it and we're very happy with where we are at. We've very confident in our product and it's very standardised.