One Winter’s Extra Pothole Costs Exceed Price of Entire DOT Bike Program

Every dot on this map represents a pothole filled by DOT in the last month.

While it may be a freakishly warm 57 degrees out today, this winter has been a pretty tough one weather-wise. Anyone using New York City’s streets, whether on two wheels or four, can attest to a big downside to all that snow: potholes.

In response, DOT announced yesterday that it is upping its repaving effort with extended hours and weekend work. By April, the extra hours should add up to 40,000 more potholes filled and 30,000 square yards of more intense repairs, which you can track at the department’s Tumblr blog. The cost of the extra work: $2 million.

That $2 million, according to DOT testimony at City Council, is more than the department has spent of its own money on its entire bike program, from design to outreach to construction, since Janette Sadik-Khan took the helm in 2007. That’s right: The city is spending more on extra pothole repair in four months than it did on three years’ worth of the bike program.

To put that number in further perspective, the $2 million in added pothole costs come on top of a $190.4 million budget for paving just this year. DOT’s total annual budget is just under $800 million.

There’s nothing objectionable about DOT spending that much money on paving — drivers, bus riders, and bikers alike enjoy smooth roads and no taxpayer should want to bear the cost of more expensive deferred repairs — but it puts the lie to a certain narrative about city transportation policies. When the New York Times writes that “New York City has gone out of its way in recent years to cater to the nonmotorized,” for example, it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what the DOT does with most of its manpower and most of its money. In reality, the bike program is a drop in the bucket.