Sunday, February 20, 2011


Ah, springtime in the nation's capital; there's a bite in the wind but the snow's beginning to rot away from the bike lanes, leaving its glacial moraines of grit and broken asphalt and debris. The pavement's stained white with salt, and the springtime bumper crop of potholes begin to surface as the freezing and thawing cause the roads to crumble like a stale brownie. . . 

And the following are a series of (only the most striking and/or egregious) potholes I encountered today in the space of about a mile and a half, between Alta Vista and Riverside on Bank Street. I started, as I went along, trying to design a rating system for potholes. I wound up deciding on three main factors: Intensity, Complexity, and Size. (Some potholes aren't so big, but are a couple of inches deep: some are essentially interconnected systems that can stretch over a couple of square metres. . . you get the idea.)

For example, I'd say Size 7; Complexity 4; Intensity 9.

Complexity about 3; Size 8; Intensity 6.

This one I thought I'd get a shot of for its sheer originality. One small pothole (Size 2, Intensity about 3) but with a long track into which a bike tire could fall and be captured. Complexity 5/8 (i.e., simple, but crafty.)

Intensity 8 or 9. Good thing it's not actually in the space a bike would be rolling in. And the Size rating (4) means cars might not be all that inconvenienced.

Complexity of about 8 or 9 here: Intensity is, luckily, low, probably about a 3.

Intensity here is off the scale: it's broken through the pavement entirely and begun eroding the earth underneath. Check out the hole just before the grate. Complexity, if you count in the grate, about 6: mostly, though, this one is just spectacular.

Short, sharp, and deep: Intensity 9, Size and Complexity both about 2.

As a combination I'd give these a Complexity of about 7, Intensity of 6 or so. Size? Um, 7.
And it occurred to me, as I weaved around to try and avoid these beasts, that one thing the city could do - simple, straightforward and cheap - to get people more comfortable with cycling, to make cycling easier and safer and more convenient . . . ? Just prioritize the stretches of road already designated as 'suggested bike routes' - like this stretch of Bank Street - for repairs. Send the road crews out here first, to fix the pavement. It'll keep us bikes from having to swerve out into traffic (or stand up on the pedals to avoid the painful jolt of an Intensity 7+ pothole) and cost no more than regular road repairs. 


  1. Send an email to with the locations and they'll fix them. Really.

  2. I have to disagree with your complexity rating for pothole #2. I think that, between its irregular shape, the salt/guck/gravel (what on earth IS that???) on the side of the road, and the pothole directly before it, this pothole deserves a much higher rating.

  3. We've been tracking the car-specific potholes along our road, especially the couple of K before you get to our place -- there's one that's got to be an 8/0/9 (it's been marked with a BUMP sign since early January, except for the times when the plow has cleaned the sign out, and it's been "patched" at least twice). But the ones right in front of our house, for sheer complexity and size, must be up around 3/9/8. I'll try to get some pictures when it gets light. They won't be as good as these, though.

  4. They finally patched the one by the yellow bungalow, though, right?

    I remember a frost heave one year on that stretch that all the kids on the bus knew about, anticipated, and would jump in our seats when we hit it. The energy from the bump would toss us that little bit higher in the air. (Yup, we made our own fun back then.)

    Until the day Michael-John (I think it was) cracked his head on the roof of the bus.

    Oh, and Shelly - that guck is road grit, packed ice, salt, and chunks of broken asphalt. The cool thing about it is that it's packed up so solid against the curbs that I can use it as a ramp to jump on and off the street when I'm blocked by traffic; or when I need to get off the road to take a picture of a pothole. :-)

  5. If all citizens participate in locating the potholes, it can help pressure the city to react faster, check out Only one snap shot of the pothole with your phone, you can GPS locate the pothole with the live picture(s). It's time for all of us to help.