Pothole City: New York’s Streets Are a Goddamned Mess

This is a real New York City Pothole that once existed and maybe still does on 2nd Avenue.
This is a real New York City Pothole that once existed and maybe still does on 2nd Avenue.

In 1975, New York City was on the brink-iest brink of bankruptcy. The State Supreme Court had filed a petition for bankruptcy; Mayor Beame‘s aids advocated to set aside cash for vital city services, like putting out fires, and police cars. Yes, that kind of a brink. It is therefore no wonder that the streets of 1970s New York were excessively riddled with potholes. Streets—let alone nicely paved ones—probably seemed good enough when the city itself was on the verge of shutting down.

But today is not 1970s New York, and we are not almost bankrupt. And yet: a former Department of Transportation commissioner under Mayor Dinkins, and present researcher at Columbia University, found in a study that the current number of potholes on New York City streets are on track to equal those of 1970s almost-non-functional New York City, according to DNAinfo.

Ex-DOT Commissioner, Lucius Riccio, found that, short of Mayor de Blasio funneling a whole bunch more money to resurface a lot more roads, the number of potholes will, in fact, equal the number present during the city’s fiscally catastrophic decade. After reviewing 20 years of data, Riccio concluded that between 250,000 and 300,000 potholes will plague city streets by the end of spring, which happens to be one of the highest numbers in recent years.

In a statement, DOT said, “Potholes form due to freeze/thaw cycles during harsh weather months and DOT prepares for this challenge each year with pothole repair blitzes that blanket the city.” Which is really tantamount to saying: “The weather is coming! The weather is coming! And we can’t do anything to curb its consequences! only retroactively unleash pot-hole-covering blitzkriegs.” In essence, all they can do is aggressively repair that which was always going to break in the first place.

But in point of fact, as Joan Didion might say—and as Riccio counters—it is not just thaw cycles that damage city roads; to a much greater degree, it is the city’s considerably-underfunded road maintenance budget that causes up to 80 percent of all surface issues; whereas winter weather accounts for just 20 percent, according to Riccio’s study.

“A high number of potholes indicates a failure to maintain city streets,” he told Columbia’s Data Science Institute. Furthermore, “Fixing potholes rather than preventing them is far more costly.”

Indeed, DNAinfo reports that road resurfacing funds have been cut so much that they can cover only 600 lane-miles per year, as opposed to the 1,000 lane-miles that the budget covered in the mid-90s.

Year-over-year, this creates a “backlog” and results in a lot of roads that look like they belong in ghost town, not here. Potholes are bad for cars, dangerous for people, and—I can testify, personally—really test the old stomach while sitting in the back seat of a New York City Taxi. I never imagined a world in which I might say this but, Mayor de Blasio, please fork it over to pave our city’s 1970s-esque pothole heavy roads.


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