Friday, February 06, 2009

The pothole season, she come early this year

I always get asked about the Newfoundland winter, and whether it’s as difficult to endure as people assume. To which I always respond that yes, the winters can be arduous—but not really substantially more than any other Canadian city that isn’t Vancouver. We have a bit of a trade-off: we certainly get massive dumps of snow, and it is with something approaching abject despair that I look outside and see three feet of the white stuff covering my car. On the other hand, we don’t often get the lung-freezing -20 degree stretches of cold that occur in Ontario and are pretty much de rigueur on the Prairies. Our winter temperatures tend to keep close to zero, migrating above and below it with almost daily frequency.

The downside to this constant freeze/thaw, combined with regular dumps of snow, is that come spring our roads have proportionally more potholes than asphalt. Water gets into the cracks in the road, expands when it freezes, and over several of these cycles, ruptures chunks of the street. Add to that the snow ploughs that scoop out these ruptures along with the snow, and you’ve got quite the potent combination.

Hence, driving in St. John’s starting around the end of March and through April is kind of like a random slalom. I’m particularly keen to avoid the potholes since blowing out a tire hitting one two years ago; and while the worst ones get flagged with traffic warning signs, you’re otherwise reliant on the sharpness of your eyes and reflexes to avoid them.

I’m not a particularly observant person—I can stare at my bookcase for ten minutes looking for a volume, only to suddenly realize it’s immediately before my eyes—but I’ve developed a pretty acute pothole-avoidance instinct. It’s as if I can sense them, and my normally sluggish reflexes acquire an almost ninja-like speed. This is not, I have been told, uncommon in this city. While I was giving my friend and colleague Danine a lift home from work last year, she laughed at the blasé way I was sharply avoiding the potholes while carrying on an animated conversation.

While this amused Danine, I know it freaked the hell out of my mother a few times during her visit last spring. My mom’s a nervous driver to begin with, so to be jerked around seemingly randomly as I navigated the streets of my adopted city left her rather pale; fortunately in St. John’s there are few times you have to drive for any longer than a few minutes. A good thing, too—an extended slalom might have induced a massive coronary.

This year, I don’t know if it’s been the particularly violent temperature swings we’ve been having (we’ve had a few atypically cold days, down to -14 on at least one occasion, followed by extremely mild days nearly reaching double digit temperature), but pothole season seems to have arrived early, and in force. This does not bode well for the spring—then, the weather is good enough for a pretty regular filling of the holes, but you don’t see it much in the winter. Which makes me concerned that come April, the proportion of asphalt to pothole is going to be rather skewed.

1 comment:

airfair crew said...

There is a deep rapid/whirlpool on the Ottawa River called "The Greyhound Bus Keeper". It is no match for some of the potholes in St. John's. They run river rafting rides down the Ottawa; how about pothole slalom runs through St. John's?