My Thoughts, Rob MacLellan
Potholes are the scourge of drivers travelling Nova Scotia’s public highways, but with a new perspective and an adjustment in our driving habits we may be able to co-exist with potholes in a more convivial fashion.
With the recent unseasonable January thaw, the latest crop of potholes has surfaced earlier than is usual for the start of the year, prompting new grumbling by drivers. Potholes are as perennial as spring flowers and tend to crop up at the same times.
We know that one of the reasons that potholes occur is due to the freeze thaw cycle so prevalent here in our beautiful province. As asphalt paving ages, cracks occur. During a thaw, water seeps into the cracks in the asphalt. When the temperature drops below zero, the water freezes forcing the asphalt to break up, which creates the potholes.
In addition to the nasty jarring thud we experience when we hit a pothole, that thud can cause extensive damage to our cars. With the high cost of automotive parts and automotive labour rates, that pothole hit can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars in car repairs.
We all have our favourite pothole stories. I recall a few years ago, travelling on Highway 215 from South Maitland northward to Maitland, the roadway was so filled with potholes that I drove in a zigzag fashion across both lanes of traffic to dodge them. Fortunately, at the time that I was travelling this route there was very little traffic, otherwise I would have been forced to slow down.
The difficulty we have with potholes is compounded by our need for speed. We like to get to where we are going quickly. Anything that hampers our fast forward progress on our highways is a problem that needs to be fixed now. As quickly as the road crews are in repairing these potholes, it is never quick enough for us.
Perhaps we need to adjust our attitudes as well as our speeds.
While we fret about potholes, some of our neighbours, who live on dirt roads, are also dealing with ruts. For those who do not frequent dirt roads, I can assure you that ruts are much worse than potholes, so we can be thankful that most of us don’t have to deal with this.
There was a time when we had only dirt or gravel roads, and a time before that when we had only wagon trails and corduroy roads. These kinds of roadways would certainly slow you down and reduce the risk of damage to cars due to travelling at high rates of speed.
In the early years of the automobile, cars and trucks did not go very fast, and local municipalities strictly enforced low speeds in well-travelled areas. The New Glasgow Eastern Chronicle of June, 1907, reported that cars must travel; in towns no faster than 12 km/h, in villages no more than 19 km/h, and in the country no more than 24 km/h. The damage to cars occasioned by hitting potholes at these speeds would be considerably less than we experience travelling at 80 km/h or 100 km/h, or more.
I expect that little that I have to say will have any effect on reducing driver speeds on our pothole infested roadways. As noted above, folks just do not want to slow down, and they expect the government to provide roads that are perfectly smooth and free of obstructions at all times. Witness the drivers who zip past you travelling way too fast during snowy or icy road conditions. It’s probably these same folks who believe that the safest way to drive over roadway rough spots, like potholes and railway crossings, is to speed up to reduce or to minimize the contact with said rough spot to reduce the thud and accompanying vehicular damage.
If drivers cannot be convinced to slow down, then perhaps the best remedy for dealing with these pesky potholes is nothing more than a new perspective. Potholes have the potential to have great entertainment value. We have a small murder of crows that hang around our place, and my wife and I take pleasure in their company. I recall a few years ago, our little murder of crows gathered about a huge pothole in the pavement in front of our house. As we watched, one of the crows jumped into the water-filled pothole and had a very enjoyable bath while, I swear, the other two crows stood lookout for oncoming traffic. When the one crow was done, another jumped in to repeat the process. My wife and I were quite delighted to watch them, and we were actually a little bit sad when the pothole was filled in a few days later.
With my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, I would suggest that there is huge potential in staking out potholes. Doing so provides a great opportunity for performing a public service, making a few bucks on the side, and as mentioned previously, a great afternoon’s entertainment. All you need to do is to find a particularly juicy pothole, which shouldn’t be too hard to do, and take along a nice comfy camp chair, a cooler full of your favourite beverage and a yellow caution flag. Make sure you sit well back from the pothole so as to protect yourself.
As cars approach the pothole, you can wave the caution flag to alert the driver to the pothole danger. Likely, most drivers won’t pay any attention to you; worse yet, they’ll wave back with one finger of their right hand. That’s OK, though. You’ll be sitting comfortably in your chair as you watch the car hit the pothole at high speed and further watch one or more wheel covers come flying off the wheels that hit the pothole. When the car goes by you can collect the wayward wheel covers.
Some drivers will realize they have lost one or more of them, and they’ll come back to collect their lost items. This is your second opportunity to perform a public service by happily returning their errant wheel covers to them. Other drivers arriving home, will have absolutely no idea where they lost their wheel covers, so after a suitable waiting period, you can advertise said wheel covers for sale and, as promised above, make a few bucks. What better way to spend a day?
We can grumble all we want, but potholes will be a perennial problem in the foreseeable future. We can do our part by letting the transportation department know where they are, by slowing down on roads that have a pothole problem and by adapting a more positive attitude.
Rob MacLellan is an advocate of adult education, an advocate of non-profit organizations and a resident of Alton. He tries to co-exist peacefully with potholes. He can be reached at: phone 673-3269, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org