One Winter’s Extra Pothole Costs Exceed Price of Entire DOT Bike Program

Every dot on this map represents a pothole filled by DOT in the last month.

While it may be a freakishly warm 57 degrees out today, this winter has been a pretty tough one weather-wise. Anyone using New York City’s streets, whether on two wheels or four, can attest to a big downside to all that snow: potholes.

In response, DOT announced yesterday that it is upping its repaving effort with extended hours and weekend work. By April, the extra hours should add up to 40,000 more potholes filled and 30,000 square yards of more intense repairs, which you can track at the department’s Tumblr blog. The cost of the extra work: $2 million.

That $2 million, according to DOT testimony at City Council, is more than the department has spent of its own money on its entire bike program, from design to outreach to construction, since Janette Sadik-Khan took the helm in 2007. That’s right: The city is spending more on extra pothole repair in four months than it did on three years’ worth of the bike program.

To put that number in further perspective, the $2 million in added pothole costs come on top of a $190.4 million budget for paving just this year. DOT’s total annual budget is just under $800 million.

There’s nothing objectionable about DOT spending that much money on paving — drivers, bus riders, and bikers alike enjoy smooth roads and no taxpayer should want to bear the cost of more expensive deferred repairs — but it puts the lie to a certain narrative about city transportation policies. When the New York Times writes that “New York City has gone out of its way in recent years to cater to the nonmotorized,” for example, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what the DOT does with most of its manpower and most of its money. In reality, the bike program is a drop in the bucket.

Filed Under: DOT

  • fdr

    This doesn’t include whatever amount the Comptroller pays to car owners who file claims for reimbursement for damage from potholes.

  • We must call for JSK’s resignation for all her pandering to motor vehicles.

    Cause none of the previous DOT commisioners did that, right?

  • Ride2Wk

    I think there 2 quotes can sum it up –
    “The NSW RTA valued the net benefit of cycling at 28.7c per bicycle
    kilometre in urban areas. Even with the relatively low levels of cycling in
    Sydney (less than 2% of all trips), the estimated economic benefit to
    Sydney was $81m per year.” (NSW RTA, 2003)(Australia – and that is far more than they spend on cycling. And RTA is only the main roads, not all the council roads. Which by the way cyclists pay for through property rates, they are not paid for by fuel tax / rego.)

    “Now I know there’s been some chatter about the cost and that’s appropriate and that’s fine. But folks, here’s the bottom line: We can’t afford not to do it!

    Think about the cost of any given trip made on bicycle versus the automobile. There is no such thing as a pothole caused by bike. There is no noise, no emissions and we’re getting exercise; which frankly — like yours truly — can use more of.

    And even if you never set foot on a bicycle and even if you never plan to set foot on a bicycle, you benefit from completing this plan.

    Fewer vehicles, less congestion, reduced pollution – We’re Portland, we lead the nation in bicycling because that’s how we roll.”

    “Think about the cost of any given trip made on bicycle versus the automobile. There is no such thing as a pothole caused by bike.”
    — Mayor Sam Adams in his State of the City address

  • I’d also add that we must have an environmental impact review of each of these so-called “pot-hole” pave-overs, because those areas naturally opened each year by the weather and inhabitants of the urban street-scape is precious reclaimed green space with the potential to support rare plant species.

  • Joe R.

    “The NSW RTA valued the net benefit of cycling at 28.7c per bicycle
    kilometre in urban areas”

    Excellent. In 2010 I rode 3168 miles ( 5098 km ), giving a net benefit of $1463.13. Multiply this by at least 100,000 other hard core cyclists in NYC who probably put up similar numbers. Now you’re talking in excess of $100 million, WAY more than was spent on cycling infrastructure.

  • Marcia Kramer’s Eyebrow

    Yeah, I am all for filling potholes. It aids everyone. Plus, the faster they fill those potholes, the fewer lawsuits against the city for fixing broken axels, flat tires, car body damage, and little Tony’s sprained ankle crossing the street.

    But I like Ben’s logic. The papers just don’t do any research or fact checking these days. They are dying a slow death.

  • Chris

    @Marcia most people don’t want facts or to think, they just want stories and their opinions spoon fed to them.

  • I’d also add that we must have an environmental impact review of each of these so-called “pot-hole” pave-overs, because those areas naturally opened each year by the weather and inhabitants of the urban street-scape is precious reclaimed green space with the potential to support rare plant species.

    You should definitely talk to Jim Oddo about that. It’s just the kind of “gotcha” argument he likes!

    … oh wait, he only likes to play that game with cyclists, right?

  • Ethan

    Does anyone really believe that DOT has only spent around $2 million on its entire bike program since 2007? To build, sign, and signal the Eighth and Ninth Avenue bike lanes? The Broadway bike lanes? Second Avenue? PPW? This statistic is laughable, and implies that DOT is booking its expenses to construct bike lanes in other (non-“bike” program) areas. Perhaps “roadway improvements”?

    I support DOT’s bike program efforts over the past few years, but they really need to stop playing with the numbers to come up with “statistical” support for their work.

  • Ethan, there’s a 4:1 Federal match; $8.8MM was spent. I suggest going back and reading the linked Streetsblog article.

  • Ethan

    I stand corrected. 8.8M sounds more reasonable. My ongoing suspicions about how DOT plays with its data these days got the best of me. Could this Federal match be applied to the capital costs of a bike share program?

  • Ethan, DOT’s current RFP for bike-share (look on their website if you need to know more) suggests that the winning vendor will supply all the capital requirements.

  • I read this in Follow That French Fry: Food Miles and Roadway Damage, a 2008 report by Texas State DOT:
    “According to American Association of State Highway and Transit Officials, the extra weight borne by freight hauling vehicles, typically single-unit trucks and combination trucks, imposes the same amount of roadway damage as 9,600 cars [The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AASHTO Guide for Design of Pavement Structures 1993, (AASHTO 1993), Appendix D.] yet those trucks only pay between 60% and 90% of their share of highway costs.
    So from a transportation perspective, reducing the number of food-bearing trucks or funding those that continue to use our roads could start to look like serious roadway preservation.”

    Also, here’s an op-ed from NYT last year by Alexandra Lange
    Hole Earth Catalog

    And the pothole ceremony that Lange referenced
    as tweeted by @NYCMayorsOffice: – 2mil potholes filled since beginning of #Bloomberg administration! Call 311 to report one.”

  • Daniel Bowman SImon

    Here’s the
    Yes, taxpayers get to “foot” this bill too! (manual filing) (electronic filing)

    Annual claims reports are here

  • Daniel Bowman SImon
    Woman Killed By School Bus On
    LES Police are investigating after a woman was killed Tuesday after being hit by a school bus in Lower Manhattan.It happened around 4:30 p.m. at Delancey and Ludlow Streets on the Lower East Side.

    A witness says the woman was riding her bicycle on Delancey when she hit a pothole and fell behind the bus, which then backed over her.

    “She was just trying to get away from the school bus and the school bus just kept driving, and it was getting closer and closer to her. And everybody’s screaming at him, ‘There’s somebody behind you!’ And she was trying to avoid the pothole, but once she hit the pothole, that’s when she fell over,” said one witness. Police say there is no criminality at this time.

    The Department of Education says two sisters were on the bus at the time of the accident and were later picked up by their parents.

  • Daniel,

    Funny you should mention that incident. I made a FOIL request on that shortly after the accident and a year or so later got copies of all the paperwork.

    The pothole was not a pothole per se (caused by ice and DOT’s responsibility), but a Con Edison repair site that had not been adequately filled in. The cyclist left the sidewalk for the street, fell in the pothole, and then was hit by the bus, which was not in reverse, but going forward.

  • Chris

    Con Ed never adequately fills in any pot holes, nor repaints class 1/2 bike lanes that they’ve torn up. Grand street/lafayette is a prime example of this. So much utility work has been done and every time they don’t bother to repaint.


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