Potholes, what are they good for? Absolutely nothin’!

Photo by autumnlight, via Flickr creative commons

Let’s face the facts. The road conditions around much of Los Angeles County STINK.

When it comes to cycling in the region, there’s nothing worse than knowing you’ll inevitably be encountering one of the many potholes, bumps, cracks, and cratered manholes scattered throughout the area. Too often, they tend to ruin a perfectly good ride. Don’t believe me? Try speeding down Wilshire Boulevard on a bicycle, it’ll feel like you’re sitting on a massage chair … from hell.

In my opinion, potholes and cracks are a cyclist’s worst enemy. Not only do they make it dangerous to ride, but they make it stressful as well. They slow us down, force us to swerve left and right in traffic, and can lead to serious injuries and expensive bike repairs.

Imagine such a scenario: One moment you’re riding down a street with nothing but smiles, then KA-BAM! A wide enough crack on the road sucks your front wheel in and the next thing you realize, you’re flapping your arms like a distorted seagull having been launched into the air like a human cannonball. Then, impact. Ouch.

Fellow cyclist Lynn shows the injuries she received (right) after crashing from a pothole (left) on a night group ride.

I’ve had a few fellow cyclists, including myself get pretty banged up after our own unfortunate encounters with a pothole. With injuries ranging from minor scruffs to severe broken bones and deep road rashes, shabby road conditions are no laughing matter.

And, in addition to causing physical injury, our poor precious bikes suffer just as well from potholes. Hit one hard enough at a good speed and you’ll end up with a flat tube, a bent wheel, and/or in the worst scenario, a broken frame. Any carbon road bike owner would shudder at such an event.

So what can we as Angelenos do to improve our hazardous roads, which at times often resembles the streets of a war-torn city? How can we make our commuting less hazardous, and more importantly, help make commutes safer for other cyclists? Surprisingly, the answer isn’t really that difficult, but few seem to know how to follow up on it.

If you ever see a hazardous road condition such as a pothole that affects your commute, simply report it to the department within that city that handles street maintenance; for example the city of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street Services via their online Service Request Form. If the hazard is within the boundaries of an unincorporated part of L.A. County, you can report it to the Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Works through this webpage.

If unsure of who to report to, you can always use the County’s online Service Locator to find the answer. However, anything reported through the County’s webpage is usually forwarded to the proper handler. As unbelievable as it may sound given the illusion of how dysfunctional and financially strapped our local government is, the report-it-and-we’ll-come-out-and-fix-it system actually works!

As of today, I’ve reported a grand total of 14 road hazards which range from deep potholes to wide cracks on the road, all of which I had to painstakingly avoid during my commutes. So far 11 of the 14 hazards have been fixed, and each report was taken care of within a month to three months of having reported on it. Not bad at all if you ask me.

So the next time you’re on your bike and have the unfortunate pleasure of biking into or coming across a road hazard like a pothole, don’t ignore it, report it. Do it for yourself and for your fellow cyclists here in L.A.

41 thoughts on “Potholes, what are they good for? Absolutely nothin’!

  1. Los Angeles needs to spend $285 millon annually on street repairs for ten years in order to get the street conditions up to a level of ‘B’ grade, according to the 2008 report from the Bureau of Street Services.

    LA takes in about $104 million each year in gas taxes. That’s $181 million short of what is annually needed to improve the condition of the streets.

    The local share for Measure R brings in about $40 million annually to Los Angeles. That still leaves us $141 million annually short to repair the roads.

    Los Angeles allows cars to be stored on the street in front of residences for free. Thats part of the street that is not used for transporting people, just storage. You could put at least eight bicycles in a single car parking space. So which is more wasteful, the car parking space or using the space more efficiently for bicycles?

    The city of Los Angeles also has ordinances which require businesses to have large enough quantities of parking to accomodate shoppers at Christmas time. The rest of the year the lots go unfilled. That excess parking could be used for another business to bring in jobs and taxes to the city. Downtown Los Angeles has more space devoted to parking than any other city in the world.

    There are seven parking spaces for every car in Los Angeles. I’d say that is a waste of space and could be used more efficiently if bicycling was encouraged by putting in infrastructure.

    If there is not enough space or money to expand the number of lanes for streets in Los Angeles, then growing the number of vehicles will increase the congestion. Reducing, or eliminating funding of transit or bicycling infrastructure will encourage people to drive, which will increase congestion. More efficient utilization of the space that we have by encouraging transit and bicycle use will enable the city to accomodate more people.

  2. Vote Libertarian: I don’t consider spending money on bike routes to/from transit stops and employment centers to be wasteful. It’s a worthwhile investment that gives people more options, helps them get where they’re going safely, and increases their chances of being productive and contributing to our economy.

  3. Additionally, as Dennis points out, enabling more people to shift some of their travel to non-automobile modes (like bikes, or a bike/Metro combo — can’t do that without good bike routes, racks on the buses, space on the trains and racks/lockers at the stations) reduces the need for automobile-specific infrastructure. Streets and highways are expensive to maintain and frequently wear out before they can generate enough value in the form of jobs and revenue to recoup the capital outlays needed to construct them, necessitating massive public subsidies. Examples here: http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/6/14/the-growth-ponzi-scheme-part-2.html

    Depending on the circumstances, spending money on bike infrastructure could arguably be the more fiscally conservative option.

  4. I encourage every car owner in LA to do their part in reducing street damage…by learning how to ride a motorcycle!

    They are more fuel efficient, they get great gas mileage, they take up less parking space, and they weigh less than cars, trucks, SUVs and buses. They’re faster than a bicycle and much more cheaper and time efficient than waiting for the bus. It’s also ideal for short trip errands like going to the local bank, the post office and your local supermarket.

    Even if you don’t intend on owning a motorcycle or scooter, at least acquire the skill of learning how to ride one; remember a skill lasts a lifetime!

  5. @Mospeada, There are electric motorcycles (and scooters). They are less smoggy than the gassers. I recently looked into them and there are a growing variety. http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=electric+motorcycles

    A further advantage of a motor over a car, single person carpool lane.
    A further advantage of a motor over a bike, you can go on the freeway (and they are practical for longer distances than bikes are).

  6. While electric scooters and motorcycles are certainly nice (and quiet, I assume! I personally dislike motorcycles because they are very noisy), they are also quite expensive.

    I’m not disputing that motorcycles/scooters can be a convenient and environmentally friendly travel option, but let’s not forget there are many reasons to ride bikes. They are, of course, environmentally friendly, and they also provide (sometimes much needed) exercise, they are very quiet (if your bike is noisy, you might want to have it checked out) and some people find them safer as you don’t weave in and out of traffic (at least you shouldn’t, and certainly not at high speeds) on a bike.

    So if you can afford a motorcycle/scooter (don’t forget, you have to get insurance for those as well) and driving one is something you’re interested in trying, great! But there’s no reason to discount those who prefer bicycles.

    Anna Chen
    Contributor, The Source

  7. “While electric scooters and motorcycles are certainly nice (and quiet, I assume! I personally dislike motorcycles because they are very noisy), they are also quite expensive.”

    As with anything new like electric a hybrid vehicles when they first started, they’re usually expensive when they first come out. But as more get produced and mass production stage is set, prices drop dramatically.

    Remember when flat screen TVs were toys for the rich? Now anyone can buy a very nice one for less than $800 at Wal-Mart these days.

    I expect electric and hybrid motorcycles will become the next wave of the future as current bicyclists move up from bicycles to moped and scooters.

    “So if you can afford a motorcycle/scooter (don’t forget, you have to get insurance for those as well) and driving one is something you’re interested in trying, great! But there’s no reason to discount those who prefer bicycles.”

    If you can afford a laptop to post on The Source, you can easily afford a moped or scooter (avg. $1,000-$2,000)

    If you can afford paying high speed internet for $60/month, you can afford insurance for a motorcycle (avg. $100/yr)

    The cost of ownership of a two-wheeled vehicle is much less than a car and they may just be much cheaper than paying for Metro’s monthly passes for $900/yr. There’s a reason why they are very popular in Southeast Asia; it’s because they are really cheap to own.

  8. “Go Green ride a bike.”

    Not everyone follows the “suck up waiting for the bus and ride the bicycle for healthy and greener living lifestyle” mindset. “Going green” is at most, a secondary issue for most people.

    For most Angelinos and the rest of America, and most likely the rest of the world, “the freedom to go anywhere they want when they want” and do that travel for cheap is much more important to their lifestyle.

    In the end, it’s always time and money. Waiting for the bus and riding a bicycle is a waste of time if you have something faster to get around with. Paying $900/yr for a monthly bus pass when the cost of ownership of a moped or scooter is much cheaper than that, especially at shorter distances, is a waste of money.

    If you look around, you see a growing number of Angelinos doing exactly that. Green is secondary to time and money.

    In foresight, I do not expect 100% of Angelinos to move to public transit even if all these projects are made. There are just too many inefficiencies to mass transit that LA has not resolved yet. The flat rate policy does not make it cost worthy for short distance riders, therefore Metro will still not gain the market of short distance travel needs to the car, motorcycle, or the bicycle. They have not figured out a way to increase their farebox recovery ratios, which means how long people will be for taxpayer funded mass transit still remains up in the air.

    Overall, I’m making the assumption that while mass transit may see some ridership increase for long distance commuters, the short distance needs will move from the private automobile to two wheelers. In about ten years from now, we’ll probably see a lot more motorcycles and scooters on the road today. You already see this shift happening in some parts of LA and near college campuses. Even at Anime Expo and the X Games this weekend, there were several people going there on a motorcycle.

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