It's that time of year again: Late Spring in San Francisco. The parrots are flocking, the smell of flower blossoms fill the air, sun dresses have returned from their winter hibernation, and Friday sick days are on the rise. I'll leave these fun and romantic springtime topics to be written about by the horticulturalists and poets, while I'll tackle the post-winter topic that nobody else wants to explore. Potholes.
The rains have stopped, the puddles have dried up, and the sun is shining, spotlighting the tragic condition of our roads in the Bay Area. Business is booming at every car, motorcycle, and bicycle repair shop. SFMTA could swiftly and easily solve its budget deficit by putting corporate sponsorship next to each pothole in the City. All of the big tire companies would go for it.
According to the most recent edition of The Pothole Report (I kid you not), which is published by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, "despite the best efforts with available funding by local governments, the overall conditions on the Bay Area's 42,500 lane-miles of city streets and county roads essentially are in fair to poor condition at best. They were graded by the commission at 66 out of a possible 100 points. That's a solid "D." A grade that in most schools would require a parent's signature and possibly a family/teacher/student conference with the school's guidance counselor. One of the most desirable places to live on the planet, a "D"?
Yes, our roads are in danger of being held back this year, unless some serious work is done in summer school. According to The Pothole Report (stop giggling, it's a serious and legitimate government funded periodical with a large readership), "A municipality that spends $1 on timely maintenance to keep a section of roadway in good condition would have to spend $5 to restore the same road if the pavement is allowed to deteriorate to the point where major rehabilitation is necessary."
Everyone, whether on bus, bike, car, or stroller, has recently experienced the bone-jarring thunk of hitting a pothole. But, can anybody tell the class how a pothole is formed? If you said…
The first sign of distress on surface pavement is usually cracking from the beating of heavy traffic that roads take. Cracking exposes the sub-base of the roadway to water leaking through the surface layer. In time, water erodes pavement strength and cracks begin to lengthen and multiply, forming networks of interconnected cracks referred to as “alligator cracking." The cracked pavement soon disintegrates, forming depressions known as potholes.
…then you would be correct.
Because a street's sub-base is damaged, even if all of the potholes are filled, the street continues to deteriorate until it completely fails.
Some good news is that several Bay Area municipalities are experimenting with "Cold In-Place Recycling". This process eliminates the need for the extraction of raw materials from the earth as well as the transportation and lay-down of finished asphalt-concrete (the main material in pavement resurfacing). On average, each lane mile paved with this method, instead of conventional hot-mix asphalt, reduces Co2 emissions by 131,000 pounds — or more than 400 percent — at a cost 20 to 40 percent below that of conventional techniques.
If you are from Bean Town, and are about to say, "You guys don't know nutting' about no friggin' potholes." Save it. Boston which used to be known as the Land of 10,000,000 Potholes, didn't even make it to the top 20 worst roads list. The San Francisco Bay Area is tied for second with San Jose as the cities with the worst roads in the country. LA has taken top prize.
How bad are they? Here's an example: A 7x7 reader wrote that a friend of hers accompanied someone in an ambulance to SF General a couple of years ago and the EMT told her that the ambulance "has to pull over and stop anytime they need to insert a needle to start an IV for a patient. The roads are so bad that we can't take a chance of hitting a pothole when we treat somebody."
But, even with SF's dubious distinction of being tied for runner-up in this ugly contest, we still ranks number one in doing the right thing about it. If your vehicle is damaged from a pothole or other road hazard, you can make a claim to the City Attorney’s office and be reimbursed for your expenses. I’ve done this…it really works. You must note specifically where the tire-eating pothole or hazard is, and you must show evidence of the damage (simple photos of the hazard and the damage will suffice). A claim must be filed within 6 months of the incident. To make a claim, click here.
If you feel like your street has been neglected and would like to nominate your street for the 2012 San Francisco Street in Worst Condition or SFSIWC Award, and be put at the top of the SF Department of Public Works' list, feel free to nominate it in the comments section down below. I will send the nominees to SFDPW who makes the official list. I will let you know this summer when the winners are announced.
For further exploration of all things parking, click here.