See, Click, Fix Potholes

Thomas MacMIllan Photo As pothole season sets in, the city unveiled a new high-tech plan for faster filling those road craters around town.

City Hall is teaming up with local internet start-up SeeClickFix to create a system that will translate citizen pothole complaints directly into street repair work orders for the Department of Public Works (DPW). The program will streamline city response to pothole problems and save money in the process, said city officials.

The partnership was announced at a Wednesday morning press conference on Gilbert Avenue, where DPW staffers Wilfredo Perez (at right in photo) and Donnie Rogers (at left) were hard at work filling gaping potholes with hot asphalt.

Howard Weissberg (at right in photo below), deputy director of the DPW, said potholes increase this time of year as the ground thaws. The warm weather also means that the DPW can start using “hot mix” to repair the holes. Work crews will be focusing on laying down hot asphalt patches throughout March and April. Crews will be canvassing the city and handling emergency complaints, Weissberg said.

Jeff Blasius (center in photo below), chief technology officer with SeeClickFix, said his civic problem-reporting website is working on an unprecedented integration with the city of New Haven. The city already monitors the SeeClickFix website for complaints about traffic and infrastructure issues. But in another couple of months, the website will be set up so that pothole complaints filed on SeeClickFix will be patched directly into the city’s computerized work order system. (You can access SeeClickFix on the Independent’s homepage.)

In a few months, neighbors will be able to file a work order for pothole repair straight from their mobile phones. Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts (at left in photo) demonstrated how the system will work, using his Blackberry cellphone. Say you drive over a particularly nasty pothole on your street. You can get out of your car, pull out your mobile phone and take a picture of the offending cavity. If your phone is GPS-enabled, the precise coordinates of that pothole will be recorded. Then you can send the photo to SeeClickFix.com, where it will be channeled directly to the the city and a work order will be filed with the DPW. The DPW aims to repair potholes within two business days, according to a release from the city.

For those without a smartphone, pothole complaints can be filed online at SeeClickFix.com or by calling the DPW at 203 946 7700.

The city’s integration with SeeClickFix will save time and money, Smuts said. It takes less staff time to field an email than a phone call, and still less to field an automated SeeClickFix submission than an email, he said. The city will be paying SeeClickFix for its partnership, but that money and more will be recouped by streamlined pothole reporting, Smuts said.

Gilbert Avenue was chosen for Wednesday’s press event because of the deplorable state of its cracked and cratered surface. All New Haven’s city streets were recently given numerical and letter grades, based on their condition. Gilbert Avenue got an F, Smuts said.

As city officials spoke, Perez and Rogers worked steadily to repair potholes. Perez said it takes about 15 minutes to fill each hole. The patches should last the whole summer he said. Gilbert Avenue was chosen on Wednesday because residents have complained vociferously about its cratered surface.

When the DPW repairs potholes, it works down a list of streets based on the number of neighborhood complaints, Perez said. The DPW has its work cut out for it. “Oh man, we got a lot of complaints from the whole city,” Perez said.

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posted by: East Rocker on March 11, 2010  10:42am

In general, I think this is a good idea.  But, I can’t help but wonder whether by making it so easy for people with computers and fancy mobile devices to report their potholes and get service whether those folks in neighborhoods that aren’t as wired or tech savvy will end up being pushed down the list for repairs simply because they don’t have a bunch of people all See, Click, Fixing in their complaints.  This isn’t a knock against See, Click, Fix - I have used it myself - but rather a broader question about equity in the internet age.

posted by: To East Rocker on March 11, 2010  12:12pm

You make a good point.  How is city hall going to ensure that complaints made by phone, although they take more time, will be given a fair spot in line for repair?

posted by: David on March 11, 2010  12:37pm

To East Rocker 1 & 2,

From the article:
“When the DPW repairs potholes, it works down a list of streets based on the number of neighborhood complaints, Perez said.”

Perhaps there should be a system where even in areas where the complaints are fewer, there is still routine service? You would expect less calls than online receipts since calling is more time consuming and the people online have more time to report such problems.

More broadly, this is a more general issue of socio-economic stratification and receipt of government services.  I hope that community service organizations in these areas might pick up some of the slack in areas where citizens might not have access to computers.

However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a fantastic example of a city using a home-grown business to cut its cost and improve services in a time of budget difficulties.  Bravo!

David

posted by: Chicwa on March 11, 2010  2:03pm

Is this service just for potholes? Can we call and report when the multitude of trenches, that are cut into our roads for the benefit of utility companies, property owners and property developers, that have sagged several inches below the surface of the street.

Is it too much to ask that these entities be held accountable for the damage they cause to a public resource? Sure, they fix the trenches initially, but once the repairs settle, they become a pothole that extends across, or sometimes along part or even a whole block. Who then addresses the problem when the initial repairs are no longer effective, the city, at tax payers expense? This is outrageous.

A perfect example is the block of Prospect St between Edwards and Sachem that runs by the Forestry School. This block was in an appalling state , but was resurfaced in the last two years. It now resembles a lunar landscape again, due to the amount of construction and redevelopment going on in that area. How long until the road resurfacing fairy waves its magic wand over this stretch again, and will all those who tore up the road be reaching in their pockets to help cover the cost? I think not.

Mr Smuts, do you really think that this is acceptable?

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 11, 2010  3:32pm

What are the chances of bringing back brick and cobblestone? A couple years ago when the city was milling streets, the old cobblestone surface next to my house was revealed and cars slowed down substantially and actually paid attention to the stop signs at the corners. Also, its way better looking. Asphalt is problematic because it requires near perfect maintenance at enormous cost just to function comfortably. Water destroys the asphalt roads and rips them apart, and freezing and melting of water excellence the process. In the northeast, asphalt is a bad choice.

posted by: gabriela on March 11, 2010  6:14pm

see click fix has a toll free number, it’s 877 853 1552.
Please share with people in your community groups

posted by: Rob Smuts on March 11, 2010  6:28pm

Couple of points:

First, I do not think failed patching on utility cuts are acceptable.  The way it’s supposed to work is that they do a temporary patch, and when the work is done and the weather permits, they replace it with a permanent patch that is almost (though not quite) as good as the original roadway.  In the case of Prospect, Yale has commissioned a good deal of utility work (including the undergrounding of utility lines which will improve the aesthetics of the area) and is paying for the complete repave of the road afterwards.  We have gotten much better as a city in the last few years making sure that utility companies come back and do the permanent patches to acceptable standards, and that we charge appropriately for road cuts.

Second, the issue of equity in services is a very important issue to the City, and one we’ve worked very hard to address.  While the number of complaints does factor into our response, it is definitely not the only factor for this reason.  (SeeClickFix is trying different ways of addressing this issue, by the way.  See: seeclickfix.blogspot.com/2009/11/reminder-why-we-started-seeclickfix.html.)  My feeling is that as long as we are being careful to respond to issues equitably, anything that increases the ease for residents to report issues, our responsiveness to them, and transparency of the whole process is a good thing.  I am also hopeful that mobile technology will lessen the digital divide, as is occuring many places - though we would still be on the lookout for generational divides or anything else that would compromise an equitable service provision.

- Rob Smuts, Chief Administrative Officer

posted by: anon on March 11, 2010  9:10pm

If you look at the SeeClickFix “activity map” of New Haven, it is clear that there is a big gap in the use of this technology, though it may be closing somewhat. 

Regardless of the reasons for this digital divide (and anyone following national work on this subject could cite 20 potential reasons for it, all backed up with detailed studies), it is something that is critical to actively address, as Rob points out. 

Does this mean potholes aren’t being patched in poor neighborhoods?  Has someone created a map of the Public Works-designated road conditions, graffiti density, or urban blight by neighborhood?  Other cities do these things. Certainly, if you overlay something like official LCI complaints vs. neighborhood in New Haven, you see more problems reported in the lower-income areas that have very low or nonexistent usage of SeeClickFix. 

If it is something you are really concerned about, you might want to give Rob or your Alderperson a call to discuss what to do about it instead of complaining about it on a message board.  Request some of these maps.  Until questions like these are answered, it’s impossible to tell if there is a problem.

posted by: Charlie O'Keefe on March 11, 2010  10:05pm

Mr Smutts

You say

We have gotten much better as a city in the last few years making sure that utility companies come back and do the permanent patches to acceptable standards, and that we charge appropriately for road cuts.

Very good.

Can you please explain why your boss Mayor DeStefano was not very good at doing this for the previous 15 years. Remember he has been mayor for a very very long time and should have a grip on this by now.

I did a rough count on pot holes on my drive home tonight along Chapel, Sherman, Elm, Whaley, and Fountain. 760 more than a foot square.

posted by: anon on March 12, 2010  8:27am

This just in: city does its job.

posted by: Nutmegger on March 12, 2010  11:27am

Jonathan,

You make a great point! In Albany, NY, the intersections there have been retrofitted with cobblestones- all four street corners plus the entire intersection is cobblestone.

Cars going through the intersection make a different sound than when they are cruising, and therefore the drivers are more acutely aware of the changing conditions posed by turning vehicles and pedestrians.

The ruts between the cobblestones weren’t deep, and weren’t any more slippery in winter than asphalt- actually they provided pedestrians a bit more traction. I would imagine bicyclists would have some difficulty navigating here, but thin strips of asphalt interspersed with the cobblestones could provide smooth surfaces for thin bicycle tires.

Potholes in New Haven could be avoided on city streets (especially at bus stops!!!) by “paving” with cement, like they do in LA. It not only lasts much longer, but it can resist heavier vehicles in hot weather. I reported potholes on Farren Ave over a year ago via seeclick- and nope, NOT fixed!

I would imagine citizens who live in lower-income areas would not even KNOW a tool such as see click exists- how are we reaching out to these populations? Should the police department (who spends lots of time in their cars instead of walking) require officers to report the worst areas to be fixed? Perhaps if people see the city investing in their neighborhoods with sidewalks, trees, and pothole repair, they’ll start investing in themselves!