To improve the future of Oak Park’s residential streets, the village is looking to its past. Village President David Pope and other trustees recently recommended a “brick streets initiative,” which is being reviewed by the village’s Community Design Commission.

“There are both aesthetic benefits and practical reasons why a community might look at incorporating brick streets for local residential streets,” Pope said. “That distinction between brick streets and paved streets can help to set apart residential areas as places that are more for people in the immediate area to enjoy rather than for cars.”

Don’t like driving on brick streets? That’s kind of the point, Pope said.

Brick streets will encourage drivers to favor asphalt-paved arterials (such as Madison Street or Ridgeland Avenue) and feeder streets (East Avenue or Augusta Boulevard), keeping traffic off residential streets. Pope lives on Lombard Avenue, a feeder, which would not become brick-paved.

Oak Park isn’t alone in valuing brick streets.

“Wilmette has adopted a brick street initiative in the last few years,” Pope said. “It’s a community that has a similar commitment to the historic character of its neighborhoods and to preserving and enhancing the residential character of its neighborhood streets.”

During Forest Park’s ongoing Village Improvement Project, that village has elected to keep its brick streets?#34;on Rockford Avenue between Randolph Street and Franklin Avenue and on Taylor and Adams Streets west of Jackson Boulevard.

Bricks were dug up and stored during water main repairs and other work and then replaced.

Seems simple enough, but in years past the idea would have been unheard of. With each subsequent round of road repairs, more and more of the village’s side streets?#34;most of which were originally paved with brick in the 1910s?#34;were resurfaced with asphalt as brick became a relic of the past.

“People kind of went away from aesthetics and made the cost-effective decision,” said Michael Stirk, an engineer with Christopher Burke Engineering, which manages Forest Park’s Village Improvement Project.

But some village officials are taking another look at those cost comparisons.

“The cost of constructing and maintaining brick streets is about equal to the cost of constructing and maintaining asphalt streets over the life of the reconstructed street,” Pope said.

Bricks cost more initially but last more than twice as long as asphalt streets.

“We’ll both be living in Florida before they need to redo those streets again,” Stirk said.

Also, damage to brick streets can be repaired one brick at a time, eliminating the need to conduct a major street-wide construction project due to a few bad potholes.

“The bricks are three inches on one side and four on the other?#34;you roll them 90 degrees onto a different edge and have a new surface,” he said.

And, although there are no numbers to back it up, Pope said it’s likely that brick streets improve property values by increasing “community character.”

Other towns boasting successful brick restoration programs include Champaign; Davenport, Iowa; and Winter Park, Fla.; according to a USA Today article from 2003.

Many of these towns paid more than 10 times the cost of asphalt to rescue their dilapidated brick streets from years of neglect. Some towns reported increases in property values of up to 20 percent following the work.

“My understanding from village staff who have experience with this is that brick that currently exists underneath asphalt may be able to be used in reconstructing streets … but using those bricks depends on their quality,” Pope said.

He hopes that during upcoming infrastructure improvements to its side streets, Oak Park will be able to strip away the layers of asphalt that had accumulated over the years to reveal the old bricks underneath.

He estimated that this might be done on anywhere from eight to 12 streets in the village.

Forest Park officials say they have no similar plans of restoring any current asphalt streets to their past brick glory. Inside potholes throughout the village, brick surfaces can be seen poking through layers of chipped away asphalt.

“From what I’ve seen I don’t think the brick is salvageable. It’s mostly due to utility repairs that have taken place over the course of time,” said Stirk. Every time the asphalt streets are milled down, he explained, the exposed side of the brick is damaged.

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