Keeping San Francisco Safe: A Focus on the Department of Public Works

San Francisco’s Department of Public Works constantly helps to maintain the condition of the city. This multimedia project takes a deeper look to see what exactly the workers do on a day to day basis and how the State’s financial problems have affected The Department of Public Works and the city of San Francisco.

Potholes frequently form in San Francisco and in order to keep residents safe, The San Francisco Department of Public Works helps to repair cracked streets and keep the city in the best condition possible.

“Safety is our priority,” said Kenneth Barros, an asphalt worker in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s Department of Public Works is currently celebrating National Public Works Week (May 16 – May 22) and acknowledging all of the projects and services that are offered to the city. According to their Web site, SFDPW does everything from maintaining roads and sweeping streets to removing graffiti and debris.

A DPW pothole crew fixes the streets in San Francisco

Pothole crews, like this one, work to maintain the streets of San Francisco to keep residents safe. Photo credit: Caitlin Olson. Click through to see more pictures.

I went out with a pothole control crew two weeks ago and spent some time watching what the workers do on a daily basis. So why should we fix these potholes? Watch this video interview with Kenneth Barros to find out more.

How does a pothole form?

Potholes form after cracks form in the street and then the heavy pounding of traffic breaks up the asphalt, said Arthur Vargas, an asphalt finisher supervisor. Listen to an interview with Arthur Vargas about how a pothole forms.

How a Pothole Forms

This chart depicts how a pothole forms, from the start of a crack in the street to the inevitable breakdown of asphalt. Click to view it at full size.

Learn how to report a pothole

The pothole patrol crews learn about the location of potholes from 311 calls and city workers who drive around the city looking for road hazards. Then the pothole patrol crews are alerted and they repair them based on safety concern. The more risks that a pothole presents, the faster they will try to fix it.

Most people in San Francisco don’t know about the 311 option, or don’t seem to utilize it. Watch this MOS video to hear opinions about potholes in San Francisco and whether or not residents report them.

According to Rick Pender, in order to report a pothole, the public needs to call 311 or submit a service request which can be found on line, but others, like Jackie Trasmer, a junior at San Francisco State University, don’t think it’s their job to report them.

“I feel like it’s the city’s job to know where the roads are really crappy,” said Trasmer.

To find out more about how the city learns about the potholes, listen to this audio interview with Rick Pender.

SFDPW repairs potholes on the streets of San Francisco

One pothole patrol crew can repair 25-30 potholes in a day. Photo credit: Caitlin Olson. Click through to see more pictures.

How is a pothole fixed?

According to Kenneth Barros, a pothole patrol crew, like the 5-person crew that he is a part of, usually repairs between 25 to 30 potholes in a given work day, depending on the size.

View this footage of the step by step process of a pothole being repaired!

SFDPW’s Budget

The price of repairing all of those potholes adds up quickly, but as of lately, there is less money to go toward fixing San Francisco’s streets.

Due to the financial crisis in the state of California, DPW’s general budget has been cut by $1.5 million in the past year, which is affecting the city of San Francisco by reducing services such as street sweeping and landscape maintenance. The most drastic drops in funding are affecting building repair, street environment services, and street cleaning.

Budget of San Francisco Department of Public Works

This bar graph compares how the budget of SFDPW has changed in the past year. The most drastic drops in funding are affecting building repair, street environment services, and street cleaning. Click through to see the graph full-size. Chart Source: SFDPW Annual Reports

According to the proposed 2010-2011 budget, the cuts have lead to the elimination of many positions and reduced spending on materials. As a result, the new budget has also reduced street cleaning as well as the number of hours that each city employee works in a week.

Because there have been layoffs and cuts, a pothole patrol crew has also been eliminated, said George Dugan, a sewer repair supervisor with the Public Utilities Commission. As a result, there are longer response times for pothole requests.

“They have also closed the asphalt plant, so now the city needs to buy all the materials from South San Francisco,” said Dugan. “They laid off a lot of laborers and cut back on street cleaning too. They used to do it every week, but now they only do it the first and third week of the month.”

Where does the money come from?

A city gets most of its money from both property tax and sales tax and allocates it from there, said Ashok Das, an Urban Planning professor at San Francisco State University. .

“The greater the number of people and the more money that they spend on things in general, the city gets more revenue from that,” said Das. Listen to the rest of his interview.

According to DPW’s annual report, two-thirds of the budget comes from grants and bonds and one fifth comes from the city’s general fund.

Most of San Francisco’s budget is allocated toward street environmental services, building repair, engineering and street and sewer repair, keeping the residents safe on the road.


One thought on “Keeping San Francisco Safe: A Focus on the Department of Public Works

  1. Now is safety is truly SFDPW’s priority, then why did they just recently create a hazardous condition when repaving Broadway at the Fillmore intersection. With the addition of new asphalt, they have now created an angle so steep that cars are scraping the asphalt when making a turn from westbound Broadway to northboudn Fillmore. And in my case, I now have a dent in my car because of this that is being repaired for almost $500 (This is far cheaper than what my dealership wanted to charge – they wanted over $1k). With this turn, you can not take it wide as you will hit southbound traffic, so it’s almost impossible to do. I have taken photos to show the week-by-week street damage as you can tell I am not the only one with this issue.

    SFDPW may say safety first, but this is nowhere near safe.

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