I recall a scene from a movie: a young couple upon moving into their new house, go ecstatic as they pull up the shag carpet to reveal hardwood floors. They had found value and asthetics beneath what had surely seemed a good idea to the previous owners.
Last week I noticed a rather healthy pothole on Market Street near W. Seventh Street. It had probably followed the path of most potholes and started out as a tiny fissure in the asphalt. The recurrence of rain and snow and the steady flow of traffic had enlarged the tiny break into a thing of noteworthy dimension, measuring about two feet across and of rougly equal length. The depth was about two and a half inches. At the bottom of the hole exposed to the new century lay a small expanse of New Albany's past; ten or twelve of the big thick bricks which underlay many of our inner city streets. They appeared to be in good shape. Is the pothole akin to a rip in the movie couple's shag carpet?
As the discussion of pavement continues, I wonder if, in a 180 flip of Shirley Baird's recent blog post, "Let's Pave Some Roads" perhaps it's time time to also say, "Let's Un-pave Some Roads".
Removing the asphalt from city streets is not a broad substitute for paving. On the contrary, if applied, the exhumation could most likely only be done in a very limited fashion. But, if tried on a limited basis, it could be a means of enhancing the historic district of town. It could also bring a long term solution to the merry-go-round of paving, which could reduce the costs of street maintenance for the future.
Certain parts of Louisville have brick streets intact, and intact is a relative term. But those streets which have remained brick appear to be protected. Some of the streets have, in fact, improved fairly recently. The improvement taking the form of the removal of ashphalt scars from utility repairs and replacing missing bricks.
Beyond the benefits of historic preservation and potential cost saving, a return to brick surfaces should serve as traffic calming, as people tend to drive more slowly on such a surface.
Salem, Indiana is another good, local example of extant brick streets. I did not verify, but I surmise that the Salem streets have never been paved. The only surface of which I'm aware that has actually turned back the clock by removing blacktop is the alley next to St. Mary's Church. That removal was accomplished with little fanfare and could serve as a model to be expanded beyond simply one block. The method used there returned the brick to the appearance I recall prior to paving.
In discussing this, some have said the newly-exposed brick would be a surface too foreign to drivers unaccustomed to driving on bricks. That idea doesn't hold up when one considers that both Louisville and Salem must have drivers who are unfamiliar with bricks and yet neither place has found it necessary to cover them up.
This idea may actually come to fruition if the pavement issue is delayed much longer. Apart from my suggestion that some streets be stripped of asphalt, the process is unfolding in its own time on E. Sixth Street between Elm and Spring Streets. As I remember it, that street was in pretty good shape before it was covered up. Interestingly, that block was paved with bricks laid on their sides rather than the chunky bricks more commonly used throughout New Albany and most cities. Something I did not realize until work last summer on Pearl Street in front of Kaiser's revealed it, Pearl Street is a yellow brick road. Oh my.