The Leading Edge of “Green” Street Design

Innovative sustainability concepts are starting to head to city streets. Environmentally sound construction isn’t just about buildings anymore. Chicago’s new project on Cermak Road will set an example for other cities looking to “green” up their streets.

Cermak Road, an industrial street in Chicago near commercial and residential areas, is currently lined with warehouses and factories. It’s a bleak scene for the eyes now, but soon it will be turned into an inspiring model of a “green,” sustainable street.

Under an $18 million project called the Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Streetscape, the roadway will be redesigned using innovative, environmentally sound concepts that alleviate the usual environmental imbalances that urban environments often create. It will serve as a valuable model on which to base eco-friendly urban street designs nationwide.

The roads will be reset with permeable surfaces, allowing storm water drainage to occur. Storm water runoff is one of the biggest environmental problems in high precipitation areas of the United States like Chicago. Improving drainage prevents erosion and pollutant runoff into aquatic areas.

Sidewalks and asphalt will have reflective materials to reflect light and heat. This regulates the high heat that often festers in urban areas during the summer.

Streetlights will be refitted with energy efficient systems that emit less light pollution into the sky. Solar panels will power the streetlights.

A bike lane of 5.5 feet will be constructed of permeable paving blocks designed for biker’s tires. The concrete used is blended with TX Active, which absorbs the Nitrous Oxide created by passing cars, thereby reducing local pollution.

Alderman Danny Solis of the 25th Ward said that the green street would be an important connection between an industrial area and the surrounding commercial and residential parts of the community. “We need to have industry, and we need to have vital commercial and residential areas. With projects like this, it’s feasible that these two can be compatible,” he said, as quoted by Huffington Post Chicago.

David Leopold, who led the Cermak/Blue Island project, tried to imagine a street that would be on the leading edge of eco street design, and worthy of winning the LEED platinum certification, if such an award existed for streets.  The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Standard is normally applied to buildings that exhibit energy and eco- balanced aspects.

Steven Vance, an urban planning expert, said in an email to the Huffington Post that Leopold had imagined, “If we were to make a LEED platinum street, what would it be?”

The roadway project was coordinated alongside a project for green additions to the Benito Juarez community academy where Cermak and Blue Island roads intersect. Some of the new features include water runoff designs that allow for rainwater drainage.

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