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A taxi cab narrowly misses a pothole on Yonge Street south of Bloor Street in Toronto. (Deborah Baic)
A taxi cab narrowly misses a pothole on Yonge Street south of Bloor Street in Toronto. (Deborah Baic)

Road Sage

The hole truth about pothole season in Canada Add to ...

The snow is melting and as it does one of our country's most cherished national treasures is making its glorious return. They are emerging all over Canada, pushing forth through the earth's surface like crocuses signalling the first blush of spring. I'm referring, of course, to the majestic Canadian pothole.

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Like bears, potholes spend the winter hibernating. Water expands as it freezes and, as snow and rain seep into our porous roads, potholes take root. As the ice expands, the asphalt puckers up and the weight from automobiles driving over it breaks apart the surface. When it melts, the gaps created by the ice collapse. This process gradually tears the asphalt apart until finally, in spring, potholes appear fully grown - glorious gaping cavities pocking our roads and highways, causing untold shock absorber damage, wheel realignments and chipped windshields.

Pothole care and maintenance

Once potholes reach maturity, they are tended to by dedicated road crews. These caretakers travel around cities and rural lanes by truck and are easily identified by their bright orange hats and vests.

Pothole nurturing is a nuanced process. First, a road crew will stand around the pothole and smoke (this can take two or three hours). Meanwhile, traffic is diverted (scientists have shown that the muffled anguished cries of the delayed motorists helps the pothole to breathe). Finally, the team's leader will wave a yield sign over it. After another hour or so, the road crew leaves the pothole, unmolested, and moves on to tend to the next one. Occasionally, if a pothole seems to be struggling, a road crew will throw loose asphalt into it. This is known as pothole fertilizer.

What do I do if I encounter a pothole?

If you come upon a pothole, stay calm. Do not attempt to feed or pet the pothole.

Surviving a pothole is much like surviving a bear attack. You must convince the pothole that you mean it no harm. Do not make any sudden movements or swerve out of your lane to avoid a pothole as you may hit another automobile or cyclist.

Just remember to "BUMP"

B - Brace Yourself (or go limp). There is usually a five- to 10-second wait as you approach a pothole. Try a little mindfulness meditation. Accept that you are going to roll over it. Stay in the moment.

U - Underneath your car you may feel some fairly severe damage being done. This is normal.

M - Move on. There is nothing you can do now that your suspension is shot, your wheels bent, and there is a crack in your windshield that looks like a miniature diagram of the border we share with the United States.

P - Prepare yourself for the bill your mechanic is going to give you. Do you have RRSPs? Maybe cash one in.

Where is the best place for pothole watching?

Though not indigenous to Canada, potholes can be found in any city or town. They were brought over by the first European settlers. In fact, in the 1800s potholes were known in Lower Canada as "Nid-de-Poule Anglais" and in Upper Canada as "French Craters."

Some environments are particularly good for sighting potholes. For instance, the Oak Street Bridge in Vancouver and Calgary's Crowchild Trail are fertile ground for Canadian pothole populations. In Ottawa, the mighty Glebe Avenue was shut down due to a pothole infestation. In Montreal, transit officials had to reroute a bus in the city's St. Henri neighbourhood. There were so many potholes it was giving the driver backache.

In 2008, the city of Toronto cared for 275,000 potholes. It costs around $6-million annually. Montreal expects to spend $3-million this year maintaining its pothole population. In other words, potholes are good for the economy.

How do I report a pothole?

Most municipalities encourage their residents to report potholes. It's a painless process. Simply telephone your local government and your call will be directed to a civic employee. Your conversation will go something like this:

You: "I want to report a pothole on Prince Edward Street."

Civic Employee: "A pothole?"

You: "Yes, it's around 15 metres wide and I'm not sure how deep."

Civic Employee: "Wow."

You: "I think I saw it swallow a Hummer."

Civic Employee: "Cool."

You: "Not really. It was actually quite frightening."

Civic Employee: "Okay, thanks for reporting it. We'll have five or six guys in orange vests standing around it and smoking in 10-to-14 business days."

Can I sponsor a pothole?

No. Technically, all pothole cultivation falls under the Federal Government's Economic Action Plan. But you can nickname potholes. "Steve" and "Gregor" are popular.

*****

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Have you had any major problems with your car this year due to potholes? Where's the worst one in your town? Share and compare in the comments section of this story.

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