Friday, March 25, 2011

The right and wrong way to fix potholes on Lewis

Last February, I was pretty frustrated by the string of potholes that runs right down the middle of Lewis Street, between O'Connor and Bank Streets. They looked a lot like these ones, which are just before Bank (read some history of the businesses at that intersection in this post). This photo was taken almost exactly a year ago:

It's clear that the top layer of asphalt along Lewis had been paved one half of the street at a time, and because the roadway drains toward the centre line (or at least doesn't sufficiently drain away from it) water seeps into the seam. When the water freezes, it separates the top layer, creating the potholes.

While it seems strange for a cyclist to complain about the conditions in the middle of the street, Lewis is perhaps one of the narrowest streets in Centretown. In the winter, the snowbanks make it too hard to ride in the right tire groove, so you have to ride in the left one. On top of that, I have to make a sweeping turn from O'Connor to the left side of Lewis, and when I get to Bank I also turn left. In the winter and spring, snow, ice and water can often hide these potholes underneath them.

The city repairs these potholes using a "cold patch"--where they put some asphalt into the hole, a bit higher than the surface of the roadway, and passing car tires tamp it down. A lot of debris gets spread around in this process, and the many little patches often ending up being just as bumpy as the potholes. This is from the same day in March 2010, but closer to O'Connor:

This shot is from July 2010, right after they put down the last layer of asphalt in the Bank Street reconstruction, just up the street. The cold patches are more or less holding up, but they look like soft putty pressed into the holes. They won't last.

All the way back in February of 2010, when I first asked for these potholes to be fixed, I pointed out to the project manager for the Bank Street reconstruction that since they were going to be paving another layer of asphalt on Bank Street anyway (you can see the lip at the edges of Bank Street in the first photo), why not also redo the top layer of Lewis to fix this problem for good?

While I never got a response to my suggestion, I was pleasantly surprised to see in July that they actually did this for a little strip down the middle of Lewis, about three car-lengths long:

Fast forward to this week. After another winter with what seems like a record number of freeze-thaw cycles, the cold patches are long gone and the centre line potholes are back and bigger than ever. These ones are the exact same ones that you see in the second photo in this post from a year previous, only they've grown.

But what of the section that was properly scraped away and repaved?

Why, you'd never know there were ever any potholes there! It's practically seamless, and it isn't bumpy to ride over either.

Now if they'd only done the whole block like I'd suggested (and while they had the equipment there already), we wouldn't need to send a pothole repair crew down Lewis street a couple times a year, every year, until the job is done right. Unfortunately, the City has yet again put too little money into road resurfacing and repairs into this year's budget, keeping Ottawa's cold-patching crews employed for the foreseeable future.


  1. I hate hate hate cold patching! It's almost worse than a band-aid. And that's a pretty spectacular pothole you've got on Lewis, wow.

    Did you see the piece on Centretown News when they talked to the Carleton engineering prof who's come up with a new method of paving? Sounds like the 'properly repaved' bit is a perfect example of why his design would work.

    You have to wonder why the city keeps going for 'cheap and frequent' rather than 'pricier and longer lasting.' The latter is clearly FAR more cost-effective... is it just a matter of planning for the next quarter instead of the next few years?

  2. Yes, I did see that piece, though I only skimmed it. Something that stuck out for me was that it suggested that there is no way to properly fix potholes unless the City (and everybody else) buys his machine. This example is evidence that that statement is not true, so I didn't pay the article much attention.

    It's not only the method, but technique. Bell has people digging up streets all over, and the Greely Construction people who dug a trench down the middle of Somerset West between Bronson and Bay did such a shoddy job that the City had to call them back to do it again.