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Plymouth Rock – The Cause of Boston’s Potholes Discovered

Last updated on March 2, 2020 at 11:15 am

Uncovered: Innovative New Street Bump App Detects the Real Source of Boston’s Potholes in Real Time

The Boston Globe recently reported how Street Bump, an app developed by the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, has uncovered the real source of Boston’s infamously bumpy roads, and the major culprits aren’t potholes or divots. It turns out that castings, some 50,000-odd cast-metal manholes and utility covers that dot the city’s streets, are a much bigger problem. Utility companies own the castings, as well as the 3-foot paved circumference around each one.

In addition to the new Street Bump app, the New Urban Mechanics office also created Citizens Connect, designed in 2008 to enable city residents to report GPS-tagged photos of quality-of-life issues that are the bane of urban living, from damaged signs and graffiti to sidewalks that need shoveling.

While Citizens Connect also lets Bostonians report potholes, Street Bump takes GPS technology a step further by detecting bumps in road and potholes automatically, as the user drives over them.

The New Urban Mechanics team used two elements of smartphones to develop Street Bump: the accelerometer, which detects your phone’s direction and movement through acceleration, and the Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, which registers when your phone jiggles around in a car cup-holder or center console, marking each bump in the road’s location by GPS satellite. The app even accounts for “false positives” such as speed bumps, or large metal plates used in road work projects.

And even though damaged castings often don’t cause as much damage as Boston’s most notorious potholes (the ones that are big enough to house a small family of rodents), the metal plates can expand pavement by several inches around them and create wide cracks that can destroy car alignments and cause serious hazards for cyclists and drivers too, who often swerve to avoid hitting divots and castings that jut out in dangerous angles from the pavement.

Man-made road hazards in the form of poor road conditions are just one more compelling reason to stay alert and not text while driving (or walking, as discussed in our last post). It’s also a compelling reason not to drive if you can avoid it, especially in the city. Poor road and sidewalk conditions also impact Boston’s walkability, a car-optional feature of city living that’s directly linked to better quality of life—and higher property values, as pointed out by the New York Times and others.  The most walkable (and bike-friendly) “car optional” neighborhoods are now more desirable places to live than locales where cars are a necessity.

Lonely Planet readers picked Boston as one of the Top 10 of the Most Walkable Cities in the World (not the country!) Click here to see all of the cities in Lonely Planet’s top 20. And WBUR’s RadioBoston featured a segment last month on why pedestrian-friendly cities are the future: listen to their interview with Jeff Speck, Belmont native and author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At A Time.

NSTAR owns about half of Boston’s castings, and, along with other area utilities, has agreed to work with the City of Boston to help fix them hole by hole. But it’s not just about cars: Besides improving our roads, we should also strive to smooth out our sidewalks, create more bike infrastructure, and improve and expand mass transit (such as the Green Line’s extension into Somerville). Fewer cars on the road translates a better quality of life for everyone—not just motorists and insurance adjusters.

Interested in trying out Street Bump for yourself? Learn more about Citizens Connect. Feedback about the current version of Street Bump is that it can be a bit of a battery hog, so if you do download it, keep your phone plugged in and charging in your car while the app is on.

Headquartered in Boston, Plymouth Rock Assurance Corporation provides auto insurance to personal and commercial auto insurance customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Plymouth Rock is the flagship carrier of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in auto and homeowner’s insurance throughout the northeast.

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