City Unveils New Pothole Filling Machine; Mayor Watches as it Slowly Does the Job

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Sam Levin
Mayor Bloomberg and DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan watch the "Python" fill a pothole in Queens.
Outdoor press conference!

Taking a break from his typical indoor news conferences, Mayor Mike Bloomberg today took advantage of the absurdly beautiful March weather outside to unveil a new pothole filling machine and to launch "road paving season," when the city resurfaces streets across the five boroughs. (Fixing roads, i.e. totally the best part about spring).

Reporters gathered around the "Python" on a blocked-off street in Flushing, Queens this morning to watch as a Department of Transportation worker demonstrated how this new piece of technology fills in potholes. The Python, a truck that basically unloads fresh material over a hole in the street and flattens it out, is designed to fill holes with fewer crew members and only block one lane of traffic during repairs.

The mayor, standing on the sidewalk alongside Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, watched as the new piece of technology -- which the city is currently testing -- did its work.

In a relatively long and awkward demonstration, reporters and photographers gathered around the machine as it dumped its fresh materials, made strange spewing noises, and then clunked around as it flattened out a hole in the middle of 34th Road. The machine, officially called the Python Pothole Patcher, uses a "telescoping arm" to place and compact the material used for repairs, and it's operated by one crew member from inside the vehicle.

After reporters shared some giggles about the riveting demo (and debated how long it actually took -- was that a full ten minutes?!), Bloomberg began the official press conference, noting that, it did seem like some kinks needed to be ironed out.

"As you can see, it's hard to operate but they will learn how to use this and what it's going to let you do is...to find something that can just move in and do it quickly without slowing down all the traffic, but you still have to fix the potholes," he said, adding that this kind of technology is designed for bigger roads (where it might've been more difficult to hold a press conference).

"We've been trying lots of different things from around the world," the mayor said. The city is "experimenting" with this one, which only requires one driver and doesn't block as many lanes of traffic as a typical crew does, he said. "We're just renting this one to see if it's the solution."

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Sam Levin
The Python, the city's new pothole filling machine.

Bloomberg went on to ponder the evolution of man and technology: "The interesting thing is...It is very difficult to automate something that people can do by hand in some cases, and the human mind and the human extremities, whether it's using your feet or your hands and human eyes make it easy to do some things that we take for granted, but when it comes to automating them, they are very difficult to do. But this will hopefully be one of the solutions to our problems. Keeping our streets in good condition is essential to our economy and to our quality of life."

Last fiscal year, the city filled a record of 418,000 potholes citywide -- due to the extreme weather. And the city has already filled 164,000 so far this fiscal year.

In order to keep the pothole repair budget down this year, Bloomberg said, "We decided this year we would have less snow."

Silence.

After a lack of response to his joke, the mayor quipped back, "It's supposed to be a joke! ... Get a life, will you! For God's sake!"

The mild winter, he said, also allowed the Dept. of Transportation to repave more lane miles than the city has done in the past, resurfacing an additional 36 miles of streets throughout the five boroughs. The city is on track to resurface a thousand miles this fiscal year, Bloomberg said.

The mayor also went on to give a fairly detailed account of the new environmentally-friendly methods the city is using in its pothole filling endeavors.

He urged folks to check out the city's pothole Tumblr. (A Tumblr dedicated to potholes!)

Sadik-Khan said it's all about innovation and new technology. "In an era of iPhones, Droids and iPads, we're looking to bring new technology to help make our streets work better, work faster, work more efficiently," she said.

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Sam Levin
The filled-in pothole after the Python did its work.

[SamTLevin / @SamTLevin]

Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.


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