Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Our Crumbling Infrastructure

A report out today by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials offers a grim report card on the state of the nation's roads. My hometown of San Diego, California ranked near the top for poor road conditions. Here's a link to a rather large PDF of the full report.

A full 84% of San Diego's roads were classified by AASHTO as "Poor" or "Mediocre" and only 10% as "Good." I can attest to this dismal state of things with a vengeance. Driving or riding, the roads around here are shameful. Our car is going to need suspension work soon, I think, and I don't believe I've been on one single ride in this city that I didn't have to dodge a pothole, crack, sinkhole, ridge, bump, blob, or some other type of yawning crater that could either break an axle or untrue a wheel. Not to mention all the smaller ones I've had to just suffer through.

A few months ago, I decided I would ride around just my neighborhood and plot on a Google map all of the horrific stretches of road and dangerously neglected intersections, specifically from a bicyclist's perspective, with a view toward presenting my findings to my local city councilman. After two outings, I realized that futility of this task. All of the streets were in need of something, so pointing out just the worst trouble spots wouldn't fix the real problem. In fact, the way they "fix" potholes and other roadway damage around here, it probably would have made the worst spots even worse.

In the 1890s, when bicycling really took off, bicycle clubs were at the forefront of the push to pave the nation's streets and roads, years before automobiles would become prevalent. Today, while safer streets continue to be a focus of bicycling advocacy organizations, the simple maintenance of the roadways seems to have taken a back seat to sexier issues like protected bike lanes, bike/pedestrian boulevards, traffic calming, etc.  But damaged roads are far more dangerous to bicyclists than to motorists, and those of us who ride need to be vocal in pointing out problems and fighting not only for improvements to the transportation infrastructure, but for simple maintenance of what already exists. We tend to look down the road to solve problems we perceive in the future (increased congestion, pollution, etc.) with an eye toward progress, and rightly so, but in doing so, we ignore the potholes right in front of us at our own peril.


  1. I had watched a documentary on the History Channel a while back that described the making of the Autobahn and the one fact that stuck in my mind was the difference in thickness of the highways between Germany and the U.S. The autobahn had a thickness of 27 inches, which is nearly twice as much as that of the U.S. requirements. So the repaving occurs less frequently than in the U.S. Thus, the lack of long term planning and lack of investment is also the culprit in shitty roads. I'm sure someone has sat and projected the amount of lost wages, wasted hours, etc for every time the roads are blocked or closed for re-pavement or construction efforts. Maybe repaving with 27 thick roads could save this ever collapsing economy...

    On one hand, I'm totally okay with having crappy roads - it's an automatic traffic calming device. On the other, I'm often not sitting when riding in order to avoid pain in the ass from going over these darn holes, bumps and what not.

    The doc was an interesting read. Was not surprised to see Philadelphia in there, but the city has an excuse: winter and overzealous salters. What is San Diego's excuse for the crappy roads? The fault line?

  2. If you want to see the worst, ride Harbor Drive. It is possible the WORST there is, combined with pedestrian zombie aciton.

  3. @ Beany: supposedly, it's the sandy soil, which settles and sinks and flows when it gets wet. That and poor materials and lack of attentive maintenance.

    @ Will: I've ridden the stretch from 28th to National City, and you're right. Although, some of the park neighbhorhoods are just as bad, especially some parts of North Park.


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