Is It Against the Law for Citizens to Fix Potholes?

The city has repeatedly urged citizens not to try filling potholes themselves.

Is it against the law for citizens to fix potholes? There’s a pothole on our street that has been bursting tires and bending wheels for two years. Can I go buy a freaking bucket of cold patch and fix it myself, or will the Stasi show up? —Asphalt Vigilante

I don’t know how often you read the papers (and God help you if my column is your only source of news), but right now the cops are barely keeping up with all the actual murder and mayhem. The chances that some schmo doing unauthorized street maintenance is going to draw a SWAT team seem pretty remote.

Which is not to say that you should do it! The city has repeatedly urged citizens not to try filling potholes themselves. Why not? For the same reason they don’t want you putting up your own traffic lights, digging your own sewage culverts, or doing your own repairs on the Morrison Bridge: Don’t take this the wrong way, Vigilante, but, statistically speaking, you’re probably an idiot.

Look at it from the city’s point of view: They don’t know you. Is it really safe for them to assume you can fill a pothole without getting yourself run over, or leaving your tools in the middle of the roadway, or mistakenly filling the hole with napalm and live eels? And then, when the whole thing blows up in your face, are you going to say, “Ah, well, I’ve learned a valuable lesson?” No, you’re going to sue the city for a billion dollars and name the eels as co-defendants.

That said, you’re not exactly the first person to consider going rogue on potholes. Just last year, Rod Stewart shocked the world with the news that he was still alive, and proved it with a video of himself (and a work crew) repairing several potholes in a public road near his estate. In Oakland, a group calling themselves “Pothole Vigilantes” grabbed headlines last summer for similar high jinks.

Finally, there’s Portland Anarchist Road Care, a group started in 2017 “not only to fix the potholes, but to take power back from the state into the hands of the people.” By their own count, they patched five potholes before dropping out of sight in, um, 2017. I know, it’s hard to imagine Portland anarchists becoming disenchanted with the daily grind of honest labor, but there it is.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

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