BETWEEN THE LINES: Since the snow and ice evaporated, most drivers probably assumed maneuvering along city streets would be trouble-free. But now they have to deal with another aggravating upshot generated by this year’s severe weather — a plague of potholes. They’re not nearly as harsh as the 10 plagues God smite on the Egyptians in Exodus, but the proliferation of gaps and fissures in the pavement are, nonetheless, plentiful and problematical.
Under ordinary conditions the city’s roads are rough enough, but after two months of wicked weather and frigid temperatures, those thoroughfares have taken a licking and keep on cracking, creating one final winter souvenir — an obstacle course that scars our streets. Drivers who don’t avoid those fissures typically experience unnerving jolts or, worse, costly vehicle damage.
The only roads likely to be worse than our pothole-peppered streets may be those pitted with bomb craters in war-torn Afghanistan.
A recent Daily News article noted that a study, conducted before this winter, by TRIP, a non-profit transportation research group, found that it annually costs city drivers an average of $2,300 to repair damage to suspensions, rims, fenders and frames — frequently requiring front-end alignments — as well as blown tires. That figure excludes medical costs for potential chiropractic treatment after sustaining a severe jarring from a large crack.
The same article noted that AAA New York reported over 10,000 flat tire calls in January, largely due to potholes.
Whenever seasonal changes involve a series of freeze-thaw cycles, potholes materialize ahead of crocuses, natural greenery and April showers. When motorists spot or hit potholes they are urged to call 311 with the location. However, due to the excess of potholes citywide, unless it’s exceptionally large, don’t expect a prompt response.
And don’t think the plethora of potholes diminishes as winter fades. April showers not only bring May flowers, but also tend to aggravate fragile pavement following a wet winter and exposure to plenty of road salt.
In a random drive around my neighborhood — bordered by Nostrand Avenue, Knapp Street, Avenue Z and Avenue X — to find out how holey local streets measured up, I counted more than 30 potholes. None of them were particularly big, but more than a few were large enough to shake and rattle my four-door sedan.
Asphalt concrete is the material of choice for heavily trafficked streets and roads, like those in New York City and other urban areas that has been widely used since the 1920s. With all the technological advances made since then, you’d think some bright civil engineer would have come up with a cost-effective plan to alter or improve road paving materials with a durable and indestructible substance for our frail roads and streets.
Whether its enhanced ingredients or something cooked up in a laboratory, a sturdier, more durable mix is required to offset the annual pothole predicament.
Patching potholes also leaves loose gravel that may be propelled and strike passing vehicles windshields and pedestrians. Our roadways need to be properly paved, not constantly re-patched, because no sooner is there another bout of rough weather than more potholes turn up — or down in this case — sometimes undoing previous repairs.
It certainly would be a drawn-out, financially-restrictive project to resurface every stretch of road, but when a planned resurfacing project does take place it should be repaired with a substance capable of holding up under the rigors of weather extremes common to our region.
Instead of posing for a blatant photo-op to fill a single pothole, as Mayor Bill de Blasio did three weeks ago, he should seek advice from Department of Transportation officials and engineers to develop a strategy to ensure the city’s heavily-traveled infrastructure is less vulnerable to Mother Nature’s wrath.
There’s little one can do to protect against hitting a pothole, especially after nightfall, when drivers may not see one until it’s too late. In any case, motorists should exercise caution, stay alert and remind themselves that potholes are out there.
The city claims to be doing its best to keep up with the recurring pothole problem, but no matter how you look at it, New York is a hole of a town. The DOT recently reported that it had filled more than 140,000 potholes, the largest number, to that point, since 2010. By now, I’m sure that number has increased and should continue to climb.
The pothole situation will likely afflict us for months, as spring rains further damage fragile pavements. No matter how much overtime road crews accumulate, it’s going to take months before our roads are sufficiently patched. And, as we’ve see year after year, band-aid patchwork is only a temporary remedy.
The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but the perilous streets of New York are paved with shoddy materials that spawn a pockmarked roadscape.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.
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