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Updated April 21
This time of year is notorious for potholes, and there seems to be even more of them than usual. If you live literally anywhere in Philly, chances are you can name at least four road craters giving your neighborhood trouble.
Perhaps you’ve taken the passive approach in dealing with them — swerve to avoid them when you drive past, and wait patiently for the city to fix them.
Or maybe not. You’re a concerned citizen, after all. You’ll call 311 eight times in one hour. You’ll do anything to see those potholes filled. Anything.
Like spray painting profanities on the road.
Welcome to the Fifth Street pothole, between Thompson and Master in North Philly.
That thing has been there for at least six months, neighbors told Billy Penn, a time estimate backed up by the Streets Department, which said the hole was originally opened up for a Philadelphia Gas Works excavation in October.
But despite at least three 311 calls from one resident alone, it hadn’t been attended to…until Friday afternoon, when some workers showed up and began filling it in.
The miraculous fix happened, perhaps not so coincidentally, two or three days after someone called out the pothole with profane graffiti: SHIT! written in giant letters, with an arrow pointing to the offending abyss.
“I laughed when I saw [the graffiti], because it’s definitely funny,” said Mandy Friday, 34, who has reported the pothole through the 311 app several times. “But at the same time, it’s not funny because this is a serious problem in Philly.”
For the record, city officials insist they didn’t fill the pothole because of the graffiti.
Barry O’Sullivan, PGW’s director of corporate communications, said his department had once repaired the pothole a few months ago, but it had since opened up again.
PGW was only made aware of the pothole again yesterday by the Streets Department, O’Sullivan said, and the crew was not aware of the graffiti until they arrived on the scene Friday afternoon.
Philly folks aren’t the first to give the street writing callout method a try.
A graffiti artist from the UK, appropriately nicknamed Wanksy, drew some, er, explicit images around potholes in the small town of Bury two years ago. The artist claimed his work indeed got the potholes fixed more quickly — although Bury Council said they had already planned to address them before his art started popping up.
Before this week’s fix, because the Fifth Street pothole had given residents trouble for half a year, it had become almost like muscle memory for Friday to swerve around the thing in her 2015 Nissan. From her home, she hears trucks crash into it, and listens to tires screech to an abrupt halt trying to avoid it.
“That’s why I think someone spray painted that [word],” Friday said. “It’s just a warning, this is here.”
Ashley Lippolis lives a few blocks away, near Norris Square. For the past six months, she has had to consistently remind her Uber drivers to avoid the pothole.
“Bascially driving around the city right now is like playing Mariokart,” Lippolis said.
The work done on the Fifth Street pothole Friday was just a temporary fix, O’Sullivan said. In a few weeks, when his staff is less backed up, they’ll come back and do something permanent.
“I can certainly understand why residents in that area were frustrated,” O’Sullivan said. “I saw I think in one of the notes that people had called 311 a couple times. They’re certainly doing the right thing by calling the city. I’m not sure what went wrong.”