Columbia City Council to vote on brick street resolution

Sunday, March 16, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A proposal from the Historic Preservation Commission to maintain brick streets downtown and to uncover additional brick streets, which has been in the works for a few years, goes before the Columbia City Council on Monday.

The public can comment on the proposal before the council's scheduled vote during its meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Monday in the Daniel Boone City Building. Related documents, including frequently asked questions about brick streets, can be found in the council agenda posted on the city's website.

History of the brick streets

In the early 1900s, many of Columbia's downtown streets were brick, but in the 1960s some of these streets were paved with asphalt. Some streets downtown were not paved, including Short Street, parts of Seventh Street and parts of Cherry Street.

According to documents submitted to the council, the bricks are in good condition, though some of the streets are uneven. The uneven surface conditions are mostly caused by the poor strength of the base under the bricks. Some of the brick streets paved with asphalt are also uneven for this reason.

What's proposed

Asphalt roads need to be replaced every 15 years, so while it may be cheaper to lay asphalt roads, in the long run they can be more expensive to maintain than brick streets, according to a report submitted to the council by the historic preservation commission. Brick roads can last for more than 100 years, according to the report.

The preservation commission has proposed installing a stronger, concrete base under existing brick streets and making necessary repairs during the next 20 years. Once that work is done, the commission wants the city to uncover other brick streets. The commission has identified repairing brick streets downtown as the highest priority. After removing the bricks to install a more stable base, the same bricks would be reused as much as possible.

All crosswalks on brick streets would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the report.

Response to the proposal

The Columbia Disabilities Commission opposes the expansion of brick streets because the streets pose a threat to people with disabilities and can damage expensive and hard-to-get equipment, which can be even more difficult to replace, according to information sent to the council. Power-driven wheelchairs, which disabilities commission members have reported cost between $9,000 to $40,000, can be damaged on brick streets. Wheelchairs can tip over when crossing brick streets with holes in them, canes and crutches can become caught in the spaces between bricks, and people using walkers could have accidents because of holes in the bricks.

The city's Human Rights Commission did not think all the brick streets would be fully accessible and voted unanimously to oppose the proposal as drafted, according to information sent to the council. If the brick roads are a hazard to people with mobility impairments, it could prevent them from parking on brick streets, and if more streets became brick, this would largely affect them, the commission concluded.

The disabilities and human rights commissions support repairing existing brick streets and want more research about accessibility and cost-effective street designs. The Human Rights Commission proposed using Short Street's brick design as a potential field study on the accessibility of the street design.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission voted unanimously during its Jan. 15 meeting to recommend the council approve the brick street proposal, according to the report submitted to council. The commission also suggested neighborhoods that decide to make brick streets on their own should be offered the same policies and protections as the streets the city has designated for renovation.

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