Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pozor! Part 3 - More fun with Bratislava's decaying infrastructure

Because my first two Pozor! posts (here and here) have such high view counts, I figured I'd give the people what they want and do a third one. Besides, when walking around the town it's kind of fun to spot these urban ankle-sprainers and photograph them. Bratislava's streets really are a minefield of potholes, pockmarks, cracks, bumps, and warps, and when you start paying attention, you can find these urban obstacles everywhere.

I'll start off with my favorite sidewalk hole, on Štúrova. I took this photo back in the summer, so I'm not sure if it has since been patched up, but its beauty is undeniable. This hole, which is about two feet long, several inches wide, and deep enough to fully engulf someone's foot, is just waiting to swallow up an unsuspecting pedestrian. The city seems to have solved that problem, however, by allowing it to double as a cardboard recycling receptacle.

This next example has come to be another favorite of mine, in part because it has been allowed to exist for way longer than I expected, given its prime location. Back in summer, this little sinkhole, roughly a few feet in diameter, appeared right in front of St. Michael's gate in the pedestrianized old town, causing the paving stones to dislodge. This walkway is a major artery, and during peak tourist season (April-October) you can see hordes of tourists, often in large tour groups, milling about in this area, gawking at the lovely St. Michael's gate (a major tourist attraction), snapping photos, and so on. You'd think that given the sheer volume of foreign bodies who pass through here every day, this would've been a top priority for the city, but no. They just threw this iron sheet over it and said "screw it". The sheet kind of gets shifted around from day to day as well, sometimes exposing a bit of the hole and more of the loose paving stones, but it appears that someone comes out periodically to reposition it. Welcome to Bratislava!

As an avid cyclist, I often say that if you want to ride around Bratislava's city streets, you really need a mountain bike. Here are a few examples of why, as someone who rides a road bike, I prefer to do most of my cycling in Austria.

This next photo is an example of a very common phenomenon at the city's busier bus stops. It's been so long since the roads have been repaved, and they appear to have been paved so cheaply in the first place, that you see these sunken grooves in the road where the buses stop. Notice how the weight of the buses pushes up the asphalt in-between the grooves high enough to potentially cause a car to bottom out.

On many streets in Bratislava cars have to park on the sidewalk. This is how some sidewalks end up looking as a result.

Some sidewalks where cars aren't supposed to park look pretty wrecked, too, like this bit on Šulekova, a residential street.

Most of the city's sidewalks are made with what appears to be a cheap layer of the kind of blacktop asphalt that they use to pave the streets (rather than concrete or cobblestones), and the material they use appears to warp over time (possibly in the summer heat?), resulting in these little bumps or inverted dimples, which can often grow to be a few inches high - high enough for this author to clumsily stumble over when he's not paying attention. Some sidewalks are littered with these things.

When walking around the sprawling, historical Hviezdoslavovo Square, it's common to see patches of upturned or altogether missing cobblestones. Someone eventually comes out to repair them, but like a game of whack-a-mole, new ones seem to pop up just as quickly. At one point over the summer some city workers were simply filling these in with sand as a kind of bandaid fix, which locals noted was exactly how they used to deal with this problem during communism.

The patches in these two photos are at the edge of the square near the opera house, where taxis routinely pull in to drop people off in the center of town. Pozor!

I love how they couldn't quite get these two sections of pavement on this busy pedestrian thoroughfare/parking strip alongside Tesco/Hotel Kyjev to meet.

Watch out for that missing storm grate!

The sprawling, communist-era Námestie Slobody (Freedom Square) is a prime example of the city's rampant neglect. This once grand square has been left to languish, marked by cracked or missing paving stones, damaged or missing storm grates, and graffiti.

Another nice random hole in the sidewalk. There seems to be some confusion as to whether this one is to serve as a receptacle for recycling plastic, or an ashtray.

Many of the city's seemingly harmless and well-marked crosswalks become absolutely treacherous when it rains or snows, as the thick paint they use gets super slippery when wet. Terezia and I joke about how it's often safer to walk outside the crosswalks than in them. The one in this photo is especially fun because of the tram tracks. As I've mentioned in previous posts, trams don't have to stop for pedestrians, so if you're scrambling to get out of the way of one that's coming right at you, make sure not to slip on the crosswalk markings!

This one's a longtime favorite of mine. This is the top of a staircase that leads to the back of the Soviet WWII memorial Slavín (more info here and here) from the park's rear entrance. The steps appear to have sunken into the ground (assuming they actually used to connect with the sidewalk at the top), resembling some sort of retractable stairway in a booby-trapped tomb from an Indiana Jones film. Granted, there is probably not a lot of traffic through here, since most people enter the park from the front, but it's still pretty amusing.

This big hole, which takes up almost the entire width of a very busy pedestrian thoroughfare by Tesco, may look fairly benign, but it fills up with water when it rains, and worse, a thick sheet of ice in the winter, turning this walkway into an almost comically treacherous obstacle course.

For this last example, I am devastatingly sad that I neglected to take some photos before the city started repairing it. This stairway leads up to the SNP Bridge, and for years it was an absolute mess. Several of the stairway's marble paving stones were loose, cracked, or missing entirely, making it particularly treacherous. Just this past April a friend of mine who was visiting from out of town commented on how utterly destroyed it was. And this is another fairly busy artery too, for both locals and tourists who cross the SNP Bridge over the Danube. According to an article in a local paper, the city made some repairs to it back in late spring, but by the end of summer, any signs of those repairs were long gone. Now the city is spending more money to, presumably, give the stairway a more thorough overhaul. Let's hope they get it right this time!

In the past, I think I kind of naively felt sorry that the city seemed to lack the money to fund these sorts of much-needed repairs, but in the two years that we've been here, it's become increasingly apparent that the money is probably being mismanaged, and likely winding up in someone's pockets. Which is sad, because if Bratislava ever wanted to be taken seriously as an EU capital and a worthwhile tourist destination, the city administration would be on top of this kind of thing. Granted, I'm sure the streets in, say, Albania or Ukraine are worse, but given that Slovakia kind of straddles the line between a sort of eastern European, former-communist backwards-ness and a more western European sense of having its shit together, expectations for this country should naturally be higher. I would say at the very least that the citizens of Slovakia deserve better, but then they keep voting in large numbers for the same jackasses who perpetuate this kind of thing, so what can you do.

1 comment:

  1. This was fun to read, and I especially like your editorial at the end. I hope somebody puts it in front of the faces of the elected and appointed officials responsible for this, who should feel quite embarrassed.