Local towns planning for the future are taking a cue from the past when it comes to paving their streets. As increasingly busy suburbs attempt to cling to their small town roots and keep traffic off residential roads, brick streets are coming back in style.
During Forest Park’s ongoing Village Improvement Project, the village has elected to keep its existing brick streets on Rockford Avenue between Randolph Street and Franklin Avenue and on Taylor and Adams Streets west of Jackson Boulevard. Bricks were dug up, 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, as with each subsequent round of road repairs more and more of the village’s side-streets, most of which were originally paved with brick in the 1910s 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 Engineer Michael Stirk of Christopher Burke Engineering, the project manager behind the Village Improvement Project.
Still, Stirk noted that though the cost of paving a street in brick is around double that of asphalt, the cost evens out due to the durability of brick. While asphalt streets typically need to be repaved every 20 years or so, brick streets can last over half a century.
“We’ll both be living in Florida before they need to redo those streets again,” he said.
As an added bonus, 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”you roll them 90 degrees onto a different edge and have a new surface,” he said.
Despite these advantages, brick streets were almost left in the past entirely.
“A big part of the reason they never paved over [the remaining brick streets] was because they never had any money to pave over streets,” said Stirk.
The most obvious advantage of the brick streets, which led to the decision to maintain the few that remain, is the nostalgia factor.
“You can really sense the history,” said Patrick Doolin, the commissioner in charge of Streets and Public Improvements. “You can almost see a horse drawn carriage being pulled down the street,” he said.
The less obvious advantage, according to Stirk, is the effectiveness of the streets as a traffic calming measure.
“When you’re going down there you get a little rumble in your tires and you tend to drive slower,” he said. In addition to slowing traffic, the streets also repel traffic altogether, as their appearance tends to discourage motorists from using them as shortcuts.
Oak Park Village President David Pope agreed. He and other Oak Park trustees recently recommended a “brick streets initiative,” which is currently being reviewed by the village’s community design commission. The only currently existing brick street in that village is on the 700 block of North Belleforte Avenue.
“The brick street itself can have the effect of delineating main traffic thoroughfares from neighborhood oriented pedestrian ways, and here in our community there are many areas that are primarily residential in character,” he said.
Though there are no numbers to back it up, Pope said he thinks it’s likely that brick streets also have a positive effect on property values in surrounding areas due to their impact on “community character.”
Pope 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 some of its side streets.
He estimated that this might be done on anywhere from eight to 12 streets in the village, pointing to a similar project in Wilmette recently as an example of success. Other towns boasting successful brick restoration programs have included Champaign. Davenport, Iowa, and Winter Park, Florida, according to a USA Today article from 2003.
Many of these towns paid over 10 times the cost of asphalt to rescue their dilapidated brick streets from years of neglect, but some towns reported increases in property values of up to 20 percent following the work.
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 under 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.
“In addition to that, in Forest Park throughout the years whenever they’d repair they’d patch it with either concrete or asphalt”the infrastructure right now is a rag-tag of different patches,” he said.