“Get some orange cones and safety vests first,” says Mike Warren, 31, who was commuting by bike around Indianapolis, trying to finish his degree in computer science, when he decided he had had enough of the city’s pockmarked streets. He had popped tires and bent wheels; neighbors had damaged the undersides of their cars. He called the city to complain, but nothing changed. So Warren and a friend started watching YouTube tutorials on how to fix potholes. They spent about $150 on cones, vests, thick leather gloves, 50-pound bags of cold-patch asphalt repair material, a long-handled steel tamper, a shovel and a broom. They called themselves Open Source Roads. “Like with open-source code, you can make your own modifications,” Warren says.
Choose a less busy street at an off-peak traffic hour. Warren likes to start at 10 a.m. Set up your cones and clean out the pothole, removing any loose chunks of pavement and dirt. Shovel in the cold patch in one-inch-thick layers. Flatten and vigorously tamp each layer. “You will feel this in your wrists and hands the next day,” Warren says. The patching material will continue to settle and compress, so fill the hole up slightly higher than the road surface to avoid sag. Be prepared to feel exposed standing in a road for a prolonged time as cars rush past. “It’s a psychological thing that takes getting used to,” Warren says.
For several years, Warren and his ragtag crew of volunteers would set out with the bags of cold patch in their backpacks, filling hundreds of potholes in broad daylight. They were vaguely aware that such work on a public road required a city permit, but they proceeded without one and never heard from anybody about it, even after reporters wrote stories and shot videos of them at work. People from other cities contacted them about setting up Open Source Roads chapters. But when the pandemic hit, the jury-rigged repair team stopped. Warren was laid off from a software development job and had to scramble to find new work. Still, the potholes irk him. Winter is coming, and with it the melting snow that seeps under and degrades the pavement. He is planning his return to the streets, this time with more serious equipment for cutting out deteriorating blacktop. “I want to invest in a diamond-blade saw,” he says.