Old Gulph Road in Lower Merion Township, near the intersection with the Blue Route. Park Avenue in New Britain Township, just a quarter-mile north of the township building. The westbound Schuylkill Expressway at the Route 1 overpass.
Each is a pothole war zone that has recently wreaked havoc on my car. Old Gulph caused me a double blowout last spring, was eventually repaired, but is now again a bane of my driving existence. Park Avenue just destroyed my passenger-side front rim to the tune of $1,100. (The average American spends $300 on pothole-related damage to his car.) And the Schuylkill sent a tremor through my bones the likes of which I haven’t felt since playing high school football. I drive these roads regularly, and for at least the last month, these potholes have been open, obvious, and unattended.
I’m sure you have your own list. It’s no surprise a release from AAA last month announced: “Potholes Send 2018 AAA Flat Tire Calls Soaring 34%.”
Our local roads are a disgrace, Third Worldish.
Surely those responsible for maintaining them also drive on them. So why aren’t they moving more quickly to fix them? There should be trucks filled with asphalt, manned by college students on summer break, circling every local municipality, filling the fissures to provide temporary relief while sparing us all flat tires, wheel alignments, and bent rims. Where is our local Al D’Amato (“Senator Pothole”), a paladin of the plain and lackluster issues?
We also need a Steve Jobs of asphalt. Somebody who can disrupt the endless cycle of patch, seal, and repave. Maybe it’ll be Norwegian material scientist Erik Schlangen, who has developed a new form of asphalt infused with small steel fibers. Schlangen explains (and demonstrates with a neat experiment) his technology in a TED Talk viewed by more than a million people.
To solve the problem of glue in road material shrinking during harsh weather, Schlangen has created “self-healing” asphalt. The steel fibers in the asphalt essentially cause the road to conduct electricity, allowing its surface to expand under heat. By running an induction machine over the asphalt, the steel fibers close the gaps and cracks that lead to potholes. Schlangen claims that his invention can double the lifespan of our roads.
Jana L. Tidwell, manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, was quoted in that release saying: “Pothole season started nearly two months early this year and is far from over. Because of the sheer number of potholes, drivers should get used to being on the lookout for them until they can be repaired.”
Hmmmm. I’m thinking there is a way to speed that process: Wanksy.
The self-described “road artist” from Manchester, England (whose name is a play on the anonymous graffiti artist Banksy), has adopted the mantra “Making the world a better place one pothole at a time.” And how does he do that?
By drawing “a big yellow willy” around the potholes in his home community, Wanksy has been successful at shaming local councils into fixing them expeditiously. As he explains on his website:
“The council are not too happy, but all my work is created using non-permanent, chalk based line marker, the same type the council use when doing repairs. The problem is that despite each and every vehicle owner in the land paying road tax, fuel tax, and council tax, that money does not seem to be being spent on our roads, or at least not effectively.”
Wanksy, similar to the namesake he parodied, remains anonymous. But I want to meet this person.
I am offering to fly Wanksy to Philadelphia to be interviewed on my show. This artist may be the type of hero that we need right now.
The Manchester Evening News reported in 2015 that Wanksy’s “unconventional approach is winning fans” and caused many potholes around Ramsbottom to be filled in just 48 hours.
“Potholes are very hard to see — you tend to forget about them until it’s too late. But draw a big yellow willy round it, you can’t help but notice them and hopefully avoid it too, saving the vehicle from damage or the rider from injury,” Wanksy explains on his website. “Usually the council will either notice it, or it actually gets reported and then gets repaired.”
At this point, I’m willing to entertain Wanksy for a holiday on the Main Line. I’d like to give him a tour of Lower Merion, New Britain, and Philadelphia.
In the meantime, AAA says motorists in Philadelphia can report potholes by calling 311 or 215-686-5560 or going online. Outside of Philadelphia, motorists can call PennDOT at 1-800-FIX-ROAD (1-800-349-7623), or report a problem to PennDOT online at its Customer Care Center.