One line jumped out at me in the speech Mayor Jim Watson gave last November about Ottawa’s proposed budget for 2018. In it, he said “Since January 2017, City staff have filled over 253,000 potholes across Ottawa.”
Think about it. That’s a lot of potholes. The City of Ottawa has approximately 6000 kilometres of road or streets. That comes out to an average of 42 potholes per kilometres for every road in the city. And that’s only the potholes they repaired. Judging from the roads in my neighbourhood, they missed a whole slew of them.
The crews repairing these potholes must really be very efficient. The numbers suggest that they have to fill up well over 150 potholes every hour, every working day, for nine months of the year (this assumes that few potholes get repaired while everything is frozen solid during the winter).
While all of this may be a real eye opener, the number of potholes being repaired also says something about the city’s priorities. Essentially, it favours pothole repairs over preventive road maintenance and rehabilitation. The formula regarding this matter is quite simple; spending more on maintenance and rehabilitation means fewer potholes, and vice versa. Sure, the city’s spin doctors may take refuge in quoting statistics for various freeze-thaw cycles, but it doesn’t change the validity of the underlying formula.
The city’s policy on preventive road maintenance and rehabilitation is obviously important for cyclists. While badly cracked asphalt and potholes may be annoying for motorists, it is downright dangerous for cyclists. Cyclists can be violently thrown off their bicycles if their front wheel unexpectedly gets caught in a deep pothole or a gaping crack in the pavement. This can result in serious personal injury or even death in extreme cases. Making matters worse is that many (perhaps the majority) of potholes occur at the edge of the road, right where cyclists ride their bikes.
If the city really wants to promote safe cycling in a safe and welcoming environment, maybe it’s time to change the focus from pothole repair to preventive road maintenance and rehabilitation.
In the meantime, the city has set up a website where people can report a pothole.