Superior Mayor Jim Paine buckled up for his first pothole ride-along Monday, June 10. In the passenger seat was 3rd District Councilor Warren Bender. They spent about an hour driving through the 3rd District, a midtown area between Tower and Catlin avenues that encompasses or abuts nearly every school in the city.
They discussed street condition, sidewalks, overgrown lawns, housing stock, access to schools and parks and more. They also kept an eye out for cyclists, and whether they chose to ride on the sidewalk or street.
“This needs to be bike friendly,” Paine said as they drove along Hammond Avenue from North 28th Street to Superior Middle School.
The tour offered a glimpse at how the 3rd District ticked.
“I always look at how people are using the streets,” Paine said. “I saw kids playing on the sidewalk earlier. That’s always a good thing. That’s usually an indication that the neighborhood is safe.”
Street after street, Bender was able to name his neighbors and point out where they lived.
“The biggest takeaway for me is Warren knows his district very well,” Paine said.
Many Superior streets are in rough shape.
“It was a long winter. I mean, potholes is just the way it ended,” Paine said. “It snowed so often that it would pile up and it would snow again on the street before we had a chance to clear the snow from the previous storm.”
The extra damage from graders and snow plows led to weaker streets and more potholes. Meanwhile, the prolonged winter delayed the opening of the hot mix plant, which provides the material used to fill potholes.
“Thankfully, it’s a beautiful day now,” Paine said. “It is a beautiful June and we are up and running fixing potholes across the city.”
The ride-along could impact which streets and sidewalks are pegged for repair. Potholes can be slated for an immediate fill, and emergency repairs could still be scheduled for later this year.
“The streets department will generally just look to repair the most damaged streets, or the ones most in need of repair, but we also want to look at how neighborhoods in the community work at large,” Paine said. “So, to make sure we have positive connections between the whole community. And that sometimes means targeting some streets over others.”
In addition to Community Development Block Grant money, the city doubled its sidewalk budget to $300,000 annually last year.
“We have a lot of catching up to do, but when sidewalks really haven’t been on the agenda for years and years, you don’t even know where to start,” Paine said.
Neighborhood concerns prompted the current mill and overlay project on Hammond Avenue between North 21st and 28th streets, Bender said. The street is scheduled for a full reconstruction in three years.
“But that’s a ways out and the street is in really rough condition, so we had to do something,” Paine said. “That’s just kind of an example of what we’re going to do here today, is to look for the immediate problems.”
The concept of a pothole tour isn’t new. Former Mayor Bruce Hagen started taking ride-alongs with councilors about four years ago.
“He made sure he got every one of the districts because it gives you a chance to see how well the city councilor knows the district,” Bender said.
Prior to that, former Mayor Dave Ross and Chief of Staff Rani Gill would drive out to assess streets when a complaint was received.
Bender lofted the idea to Paine when they were working on his "State of the City" address.
“It’s a good idea,” the mayor said. “I’m bringing it back.”
He said the ride-along offer is open to all councilors.