We live on a little side street just one block long, built in 1920 and paved with yellow bricks. Those same bricks have been there for 90 years. There are only a few spots patched with visibly newer bricks or concrete.
In the eight years we’ve lived here, our street has had only one small repair: Winter freezing created a pothole; the repair crew fished the fallen bricks out of the hole and put them back in place after filling the hole. Meanwhile, almost every bit of asphalt street in the neighborhood has been replaced. We’ve been spared the disruption, noise, dust, and odor of jackhammers tearing up our street and big soot-belching machines laying new pavement.
In researching this article, I learned that asphalt is the most-recycled material in the United States, and asphalt paving can be made porous for better storm-water management. Well, it’s good to know that the paving used on the majority of streets is not too terrible for the environment! Still, asphalt is “the heavy residue of the oil refining process,” and much more petroleum is used to power the machines that tear up and replace asphalt paving every decade or so. Bricks may be more environmentally friendly in their initial production, and they certainly require less maintenance, at least in my observation around our neighborhood.
The brick-paved, one-way, up-on-a-cliff street was a big selling point for us when choosing a house because it’s not an inviting short cut or drag-racing route; most people won’t drive on our street unless it’s their destination. That means less traffic passing our house and better odds of finding a parking space. Yes, it’s true that driving on our street is a bit bumpy and noisy, but we appreciate the way that deters other drivers more than we’re bothered by it ourselves. People tend to drive more slowly on bricks, which is safer for us as pedestrians and safer for our on-street-parked car. The rumbling noise warns us when a vehicle is approaching so we don’t walk or pull out of a parking space in front of it. We especially appreciate that noise’s warning other people of our car, since we have a hybrid car which coasts very quietly.
When the street is wet or icy, the texture of the bricks gives wheels and feet something to grip. Although we have to drive down a steep hill to leave our street, traction isn’t a problem unless the ice or snow is very deep or rain is falling so hard that the street can’t drain fast enough.
We love the way our street looks: It’s like a nice old building, instead of a swath of smelly petro-goo. It has plenty of texture and character. Little green plants grow between the bricks in the parking lanes. It’s very charming.
The light color of the bricks reflects heat, so walking across our street in the summer doesn’t throw a tremendous scorching blast into your face. You can even walk barefoot on it without burning your feet! The feel of the bricks is very pleasant, unlike the scrapey texture of asphalt. We haven’t yet had the misfortune to fall down and slide on this pavement, but if we do, I bet we won’t get hurt as badly as on asphalt or concrete.
Living on a brick-paved street works for me!
UPDATE: The week after I wrote this, I read in the newspaper that the borough of Swissvale (immediately outside Pittsburgh) decided to repair some damaged brick streets with bricks rather than asphalt because of long-term maintenance costs and public pressure. Apparently we’re not the only home-buyers who are attracted to brick-paved streets.
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