We should all congratulate Village President David Pope, the supportive trustees and village staff such as Jim Budrick for making the brick street pilot program a reality [Brick streets an option, News, May 2]. I wanted to add a few points.
First, brick is actually cheaper. Material and labor (“first cost”) is indeed marginally greater than typical asphalt. But government is supposed to take the long view and this is why congratulations are in order. The brick option will save Oak Park money in operations, repair and replacement costs, not to mention the incalculable benefit of lives it will save.
One citizen in the article expressed concern that it might be “bad for bicyclists.” If you’ve ridden on the unmaintained, 100-year-old brick streets under the Lake Street viaducts in Austin, you know it’s not that big a deal. Bike riders in urbanized areas have to be on the lookout anyway; the road surface difference with modern brick is one of the least of our concerns.
Cars, though, are another story. The article mentions that a brick block is noisier. This is a good thing. At the same speed, it’s louder in the vehicle, too–which causes drivers to instinctively slow down. Then it’s quieter again. Slower cars and fewer short-cutters also mean less likelihood that a child will get run over. It ought to be worth any cost, not simply the first-cost difference, just for that.
Brick handles uneven settling more gracefully than monolithic asphalt. How many times have we seen new little spider stripes of tar on cracks in a near-new asphalt street? How many times has a crack collar, or a sunken ring, developed around a manhole in an asphalt street? Bricks have lots of joints so they develop lots of cracks between them and the mortar–but small ones. Fewer of the larger cracks mean less need to send crews out to do spot repairs. This also helps brick handle freeze-and-thaw cycles (expansion and contraction) better, though it can affect joint life (my joints have the same problem).
Yes, more cracks mean more water gets in and, yes, even paver bricks are usually more porous than asphalt. If it’s installed as “permeable paving” though (another option to consider), that’s also a good thing! When we get a downpour, a brick street can absorb and hold more water than a comparable asphalt street. What that does is help knock down the “first flush”–the dirtiest water you get when rain washes off a street. That cuts down the maximum volume of stormwater an engineer has to design our storm sewers for. Over time, smaller sewers can save money–as can less flash flood damage.
Plus, there’s the oil thing. Asphalt absorbs less water and creates greater runoff because it’s made with petroleum. Anyone who’s smelled a street being paved knows this. True, we don’t burn asphalt to run our cars, so there really aren’t global warming impacts, but the oil does eventually seep into the ground and causes an environmental cleanup issue down the, um, road.
The other aspect is repairs. Particularly if they can avoid the extensive concrete substrate, making a sewer or gas pipe repair under a brick street can be easier, quicker and therefore cheaper than doing so on an asphalt street. Popping out the bricks to fix the pipes also generates less noise than the saws or jackhammers they have to use on asphalt.
And who would miss that scarifying machine–the long, loud trailer thingy that grinds off the top two inches of asphalt so they can re-cap the street? Brick doesn’t need to be re-paved for 50-60 years. Then, as the Journal article noted, you can harvest the old brick, flip it over and get another 50-60 years out of it! I, for one, won’t miss the scarifier, and I sure won’t miss driving or riding my bike on blocks that have been scarified and not resurfaced yet.
Brick residential streets are a cheaper, greener, less disruptive and simply better option. President Pope and the other Oak Park officials and staff who are making this possible deserve our thanks for making our great village even greater, for taking the long-term view and for taking quality-of-life issues into otherwise dry infrastructure decisions.
Eric Davis is an Oak Park Township trustee and practicing architect.