Could brick streets be restored in Allentown?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) -Last year’s successful restoration of the brick road on Ardmore Place in Buffalo has some city residents thinking about similar projects in their neighborhood.

Recently, as asphalt has aged and worn away, bricks have become exposed beneath some streets throughout the Allentown district. But whether or not these red brick roads make their comeback isn’t only a question of historic look and feel. Much of it depends on certain engineering and design features.

One year ago to the date – August 1, 2013 – neighbors living on Ardmore Place discovered bricks that appeared to be in pristine condition, as city public works crews arrived for a planned repaving project. When they saw what was underneath the asphalt, they banded together and successfully petitioned the city to restore the brick.

“Personally, when I turn the corner and I hit the red brick road, I go ‘Yes!’ …And I love it,” Renee Wiedemer told News 4. “A year later, and people are still just coming by to see the red brick road. They love it! And it’s just fun.”

Even through the winter months, the bricks of Ardmore Place have held up beautifully. Drainage has improved, and property values are rising.

“The street looks great,” said neighbor Dom Parisi. “We have a clock and planter up on the corner, from our block club fund. We have people just riding up the block, looking at it, and they love it. It’s just the way it should be. Original, brick street.”

“The groundwater, runoff is absorbed through the street itself, and that has been fabulous,” said Jim Wiedemer. “There’s also been a number of homes that’ve gone up for sale, and one of the things that the buyers have always mentioned is, they would love to live on a red brick road. A day or two on the market, and then they’re sold.”

Allentown, which already prides itself on the restoration and upkeep of historic cottages and Victorian homes, likely has bricks underneath many of its streets, said Allentown Association President Jonathan White.

“I’m all for the idea. I think it improves the neighborhood, I think it causes people to slow down when they’re driving,” said Allen Street resident Sam Scarcello.

Scarcello has some familiarity with brick road restoration. He did some research on what the process involves while he was writing for Canisius College’s student paper. At the time, public works crews unearthed brick roads on some of the sidestreets near Canisius. But those roads were paved over.

“I noticed a bunch of the streets had brick underneath them, and they were so perfectly preserved and so perfectly placed,” Scarcello said. “I kind of fell in love with the idea.”

“The materials to do it are costly,” Scarcello admitted. “It’s a large upfront cost. There’s not a lot of companies that do restorations like that anymore; it’s much cheaper to just get the materials to put down asphalt. But, in the long run, it requires less maintenance; it lasts much longer than asphalt.”

“We’ve actually been told that brick is easier to maintain, because it’s harder than the asphalt. It doesn’t wear away with potholes, the way the asphalt does,” White said. “I think that the homeowners and the residents would be thrilled and welcome it, if it were found to be there and if it was feasible to restore it.”

Therein lies the caveat – not all brick and cobblestone streets are feasible to restore. Ardmore Place had a unique design feature that made it possible.

“The big thing for us was there wasn’t any sort of utility lines running through the middle of the street,” Renee Wiedemer explained. “So when the engineers came by and looked at it, it wasn’t problematic. They didn’t have to go around manhole covers; they didn’t have to cover any sort of sewer lines and whatnot, because that was all on the sidewalks.”

On streets similar to Ardmore where the design lends itself to brick restoration, Wiedemer and her neighbors support the idea.

“It’s a dream come true,” Patty Lupke said. “It’s beautiful. And it lasted, and it’s still good, and it’s still going on. So if anybody else out there wants to do it, more power to them.”

“It was a neighborhood movement. It got everybody out on their porch, like you would have 100 years ago when this street was here. People sat out on their porches and talked,” Jim Wiedemer said. “And that’s still happening today. It’s a very close-knit neighborhood, and this brought people even closer together.”

Back in Allentown, Scarcello said, “It calls back to the old city, the old Buffalo. I think it fits right in with the quirky aspects of the neighborhood.

One place where bricks definitely will not be restored is Allen Street itself. That’s because, as White explained, a massive reconstruction project that will completely transform the length of Allen Street is scheduled to begin in June 2015. Four slightly different designs are under consideration.

“The four designs all include a curbless street,” White said, “that will seamlessly accommodate cars, pedestrians, bicycles, as well as the many, many festivals that take place on Allen Street every year.”

One-side parking, likely on the north side of Allen Street, is also expected to be part of the redesign. White said that should help ease congestion and improve traffic flow on the already-narrow roadway.

The construction will also extend a pedestrian walkway from Allen Street onto the Medical Campus.

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