Michael Warren waited patiently for the city to respond to his reports of needed street repairs. As weeks turned into months, he decided, “Why don’t I try to do it?” After spending his own hard earned cash for supplies and fixing around 50 craters in the asphalt, Warren picked up a reputation across Indianapolis as “the Pothole Vigilante.”
Michael gets around town on a bicycle. The tires of his bike are especially vulnerable to sharp ridges in the road surface like the lips of common potholes. This probably made him a little more sensitive to the issue than someone who drives a car all the time, even though cars and trucks are affected too. All it takes is one good thump in a road rut to throw the alignment out of whack.
According to Warren, his neighborhood’s lesser traveled “side streets, lined with overgrown yards and abandoned houses, are a low priority for the city.” He reported the ones affecting him but weeks went by without a response. Warren admits a token effort was made by the city. “The city has been out to fix many of them, but despite their efforts, potholes still exist in the neighborhood.” He writes. “People have been calling the city to come out and finish the job, but to no avail,” he adds.
Michael decided to take matters into his own hands. “Given the importance of this to me, I have decided that, if the government won’t do it, maybe I ought to do it myself.” The problem was, he didn’t have any supplies. Taking his solution to the internet, Warren started a gofundme account. Just a little help from the neighborhood to defray costs was all he was asking. “I need, for this project, a shovel, a tamper, and 2 50 pound bags of asphalt. As soon as I get that, these potholes will be fixed!”
Warren has been hit hard by the recession and only works a part time job. “I don’t have the funds to cover the materials, let alone pay my own bills,” he explains. The community answered his plea, at least enough to get him the tools and enough materials to get started, but most of the expenses still come out of his pocket. Since April, he’s spent over $500 repairing at least 50 potholes.
Warren calls his project “Open Source Roads” and says, “I think we should get back to maintaining our communities, just take a primary role in that. This is my attempt to fix the potholes in my neighborhood.” A “one-person road crew,” Michael packs his bike with brooms, shovels and traffic cones then scouts for divots. Standard procedure is to brush them clean, then asphalt patch tamped down flat.
“I feel like the combination of the resources we have now, and with volunteerism in neighborhoods like this, we could tackle this pothole problem,” Michael related. “This is a lot bigger than me.” Warren plans to keep up the effort and looks forward to some help from friends. One contributor commented “I love you, bro!!! Keep doing big things for us! Taxation is theft this is how its supposed to be done! Thank you again.”
Bureaucratic officials are not usually pleased when the taxpayers get a notion to do city jobs. Union officials have a way of appearing out of nowhere, cease-and-desist orders in hand and a look of outrage on their face. Public works departments are held together by miles of red-tape regulations that say nobody is allowed to do anything without proper permits.
A retired mechanic, Adi Astl, watched for eight years as old folks and children alike struggled up and down an embankment at Toronto’s Tom Riley Park. He contacted his local representative and waited. When the plan came in with an estimate of between $65,000 and $150,000 he thought they were talking about an escalator. Neighbors chipped in and he went to Home Depot. For $550 in cash and help from a homeless man who got breakfast and a little cash, they solved the problem. “It took us altogether 14 hours,” Astl said.
Neighbors were thrilled. Bylaw officers immediately took action and closed the stairs. A couple days later they ripped them right back out. The good Samaritan was informed he violated the Municipal Code but he has not been charged. At least Toronto quickly rebuilt stairs to code for a much more reasonable price.
When Michael Warren did hear from the city, their response showed that Indianapolis has a unique and freshly practical way of dealing with the situation. Indianapolis Department of Public Works is happy for the voluntary assistance and welcomes Michael’s contributions. They are, however, concerned for his safety. They would prefer anyone who wants a pothole fixed to report it on their official web page.
Betsy Whitmore conceded he doesn’t have a work permit technically needed to work on city property but isn’t calling his roadwork illegal. They are “worried about his safety, being in the road,” though. “We’d rather work with you so that we have records of what’s been patched, and make sure that we’re keeping all of our data,” she says.
“We do appreciate his passion to be part of helping things out, but there are certain protocols,” Whitmore explains. “A lot of times our contractors have to pull permits to work in the right of way because it is an assurance we know you’re using the right safety protocols.”