International potholing

Barak San Nicholas street

At mySociety we take some pride in knowing that FixMyStreet has helped rid the world of thousands of potholes over the years, but of course our contribution to unbroken roads is merely the start of the process. Certainly, reporting a hole on FixMyStreet is easy (we’ve gone out of our way to make sure that is the case), but we do appreciate that a hole remains a hole until somebody takes the trouble to actually fill it in. So really it is all the inspectors, despatchers, logistic and supply teams, fleet mechanics, and repair crews who make the world a smoother, less perforated place.

We’re currently working on a pilot project in the city of Cebu (the “second city” of the Philippines) with the World Bank and transport experts ITP that will implement a FixMyStreet-based reporting service as part of the ongoing battle to keep its roads and streetlights in good repair. Later in the year we will have more to report, but for now—before anything is up and running—we can start by saluting the work of some of the remarkable people who fix the roads (and replace the bulbs) there.

As the winter closed in here in the UK, we ran a “Fix Before the Freeze” campaign encouraging people to report potholes before the frost made things worse. Frost damage isn’t an issue in Cebu, but monsoon weather is, and during the wettest time of the the year it’s simply impractical for holes to be filled with the hot mix method (which is the best way to effect a long-term repair). Every day, the highway departments are faced with the unrelenting logistical problems that arise from marshalling a limited number of crews with a finite amount of asphalt to combat a cityful of holes. Add to this the churn of a thriving city: repairing the surfaces of busy urban roads is a hazardous occupation at the best of times, but especially so in a place like the Philippines where exuberant driving styles can make British traffic seem almost restful.

O don’t tell the mice, don’t tell the moles,
My father’s the chief inspector of HOLES
—Ted Hughes

DPWH wall maps

Cebu’s large network of roads needs constant inspection in this war of material attrition. An inspector can perhaps hope to cover up to 30km of single-lane road in a day, but with a road network like Cebu’s this is never enough. We met Nicomedes, senior manager at DPWH, who long ago adopted the weekend practice of packing a lunch and spending each Saturday inspecting the “mountain barangay” routes that might otherwise never make it onto the schedule. He’s made it a matter of personal pride to be familiar with roads on the outskirts of Cebu city that many of its inhabitants may never even see.

The problems for road maintenance specific to an environment like Cebu include encroachment—where access to the road for repairs can be difficult because everyday life overspills its edges—and the often dense layout of narrow, unnamed alleys. Cebu is divided into barangays (somewhat similar to parishes or wards in the UK), each of which has a community centre and a team responsible for managing local issues. The FixMyStreet pilot project will be working with these enthusiastic barangay teams to run a system of local hole triage that would make local councils in the UK envious.

Street in barangay Luz, Cebu

So next time you click on FixMyStreet to report a pothole—whether it’s a gaping chasm or a worrying case of alligator cracking*—remember that you are taking part in the international battle against unwanted holes.

* alligator cracking: technical term describing fragmented road surface; does not involve actual alligators

1 Comment