Potholes have yet again become something of a public fixation in Pittsburgh.
They’ve consumed much of Mayor Bill Peduto’s time on Twitter, where angry residents have taken to voicing their displeasure with the condition of the city’s roads in 280 characters or less.
Potholes have also resulted in thousands of reports being lodged with 311 and a string of news reports chronicling the frustration they provoke and the damage they sometimes inflict. It should come as no surprise then that Pittsburgh officials often use military jargon in announcing their anti-pothole offensives.
But as bad as potholes are for vehicles — blown tires, damaged alignments, etc. — the argument could be made that they’re even worse for cyclists.
“Potholes pose a danger to cyclists that can damage bike parts, cause flats, and at worst cause injury, such as broken teeth,” said Julie Mallis, education program manager with BikePGH, a pedestrian and cyclist advocacy group.
Yes, you read that correctly. Broken teeth.
And it can get even worse than that.
In Los Angeles in September, a cyclist agreed to a $6.5 million settlement with the city stemming from a lawsuit he filed after “sustaining multiple broken bones and severe brain trauma” in a crash caused by a large pothole. In San Diego, city council members paid $235,000 to a woman who suffered significant injuries when she hit a pothole on her bike there in 2014.
But you may not be a cyclist and may be wondering what all this has to do with you.
“Potholes are certainly forcing cyclists to ride in a less predictable manner, which can be more dangerous and confusing for motorists who do not realize they are just looking to avoid the massive gaps in the ground. Any motorists driving behind cyclists or hoping to pass them in the winter should be extra careful to proceed with caution and be patient as cyclists have to dart away from potholes to stay safe.”
Cyclists should know that potholes may make motorists less predictable, too. (The American Automobile Association says Americans spent $3 billion to repair damages to their vehicles caused by hitting a pothole in 2016. This year, that total is likely to be even higher.)
For cyclists, she suggests scanning ahead as you ride or moving away from the curb.
“Cyclists have the right to ride in the middle of the road and ‘take the lane.’ Especially in inclement weather, riding in the center (as opposed to keeping to the right) can be safer for cyclists looking to avoid potholes. Staying in the middle line provides more space to shift left or right to avoid potholes and helps motorists know that the cyclist needs space on the road, too. Our advocacy director suggests (semi-jokingly) that cyclists can learn to bunny-hop as an added measure of defense against obstacles like potholes.”
In its “Cyclists’ guide to dealing with potholes,” British magazine Cycling Weekly endorsed the bunny-hop defense. It also suggested “Keep[ing] the tyres pumped up,” as “Underinflated tyres will pinch puncture on a pothole and could even damage the rim.” The article added, “if you really can’t trust yourself to avoid potholes, ditch the road bike and get a mountain bike with a suspension fork.”
For motorists, Mallis suggested using the four-foot passing rule, adding, “motorists may cross over double yellow lines on a two-lane road to safely pass a cyclist if the oncoming lane is clear. If there is not ample space to safely and slowly pass the cyclist, just wait it out.”
Most of all she stressed patience. After all, it’s pothole season — and we’re all in misery.