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Potholes Sink to New Depths

Note to readers: This is a rerun of a column originally published in the March 28, 2011, issue. It has been edited slightly.

It’s a good thing I can type. It’s hard for me to talk, what with these broken teeth.

You see, I have to drive on L.A.’s roads. And if you drive a car – or ride a bicycle or motorcycle – you also may have cracked teeth or a bitten, swollen tongue, too. That’s what happens when you hit a half-dozen potholes on the way to work.

Potholes? What am I saying? I mean, what am I typing? These are more like craters, trenches, cave openings. I’ll bet the streets of Benghazi are in better condition.

All the neglected roads we have, combined with all the money the city of Los Angeles doesn’t have, means we’re left with the worst street conditions since, well, maybe since asphalt was pulled out of the La Brea Tar Pits and spread onto dirt roads.

Texans might complain that there aren’t enough mechanical bulls in L.A. bars, but we don’t need mechanical bulls. We can just drive on Sunset or Wilshire boulevards.

You can almost watch the birth and quick maturation of a pothole at any street near you. A little spot of broken pavement today will be a small hole tomorrow. Since the city probably won’t patch it, it will grow to a tire-thumping big hole in a few days and then into a wheel killer in a week. And a month or two later, well, don’t dare step into that hole without a parachute.

You know, there may be a business opportunity here. We should start a car rental company that doesn’t bother with those wimpy midsize sedans but rents what motorists really need in Los Angeles: armored personnel carriers.

It’s probably no surprise to you that in 2010 a Washington group that tracks road conditions said nearly two-thirds of L.A.’s major roads were in poor condition – the highest percentage among larger cities.

That transportation research group, which calls itself Trip, said 75 percent of any city’s roads should be rated in good condition. The percentage of roads in Los Angeles considered to be in good condition? Three percent.

I don’t know about you, but I’m shocked. Three percent seems mighty high to me.

By the way, Trip went on to say that a typical Angeleno can expect to spend $746 a year on repairs and extra operating costs because of the bad streets here.

I know I spent more than $400 on a new tire and an alignment after a chuck hole on Wilshire just east of Crescent Heights Boulevard took out my right front tire. Of course, you can’t just buy one new tire. Counting the other stuff the dealership suckered me into buying, I spent $1,200. So, yeah, it’s expensive to commute here. But at least the experience taught me to stop foolishly driving faster than three miles an hour.

Last week – two weeks after my right front tire plumbed the depths of that crater on Wilshire – I noticed that the hole finally had gotten filled. In those two weeks, I wonder how many other perfectly fine tires met an early death there. Not to mention how many teeth got cracked.

Two weeks to patch a dangerous hole on a conspicuous, much traveled street? That’s probably a good response rate these days in Los Angeles.

Some time ago, I gave up on the idealistic belief that governments could do bold, imaginative things. Now, I’m about to surrender the notion that they can do the most basic things.

So what can you do? Buy a used Hummer. Get a good dental plan. And go out on those streets and ride ’em, cowboy.


Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.

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