Lawrence has 23 miles of brick streets today. How many the city ought to have in the future is a question that's getting some discussion.
Public works department staff members are crafting guidelines on when brick streets should be rebuilt with bricks versus when they should be removed and rebuilt with more common asphalt or concrete pavements.
Brick street maintenance has been limited because the city lacks a policy, said Mark Thiel, assistant director of public works.
"The brick streets basically are getting ignored, and we can't afford to do that," Thiel said.
The fates of brick streets may depend on which direction they run. Thiel said the department is seeking feedback from residents of neighborhoods with brick streets. But he said department leaders have an idea they want to use as a starting point: Brick streets that run north-south generally would be better candidates to be rebuilt as brick streets than those that run east-west. North-south streets generally have more houses facing the street than east-west streets, he said.
Phil Minkin, an officer with the Old West Lawrence Neighborhood Association, said it will be interesting to see if residents of older neighborhoods buy into that strategy.
"I think there is still going to be a lot of people in Old West Lawrence really attached to brick streets regardless of whether they run north and south or east and west," Minkin said.
Thiel said any guidelines are going to be written to give city officials the ability to deviate in specific situations. But what is unlikely, Thiel said, is that the city will have the money to replace all 23 miles of existing brick streets with new brick streets in the future.
Brick streets cost about $500,000 per block to build compared to about $200,000 per block for concrete or asphalt.
The amount of work needed on brick streets is beginning to pile up, Thiel said. The city gives a numerical score of 1 to 100 for every street. The average score for nonbrick streets is about 75, with 100 being the best. The average score for brick streets is 59.
The guidelines are expected to help the public works department determine what type of maintenance should be done on brick streets. Thiel said one option is to put an asphalt overlay on brick streets that are badly worn. The asphalt covers up the charm of the brick streets, but he said it preserves the bricks so they can be used to rebuild the street in the future.
Many of the city's brick streets are already covered with asphalt — large sections of Seventh through 12th streets in east Lawrence, for example. But Thiel said the city has been hesitant to use that technique without having guidelines.
Convincing neighbors that covering up a brick street will be temporary may prove difficult. The city has rebuilt fewer than half a dozen blocks of brick streets during the past six years, and that was only because the city received grant dollars for the project.
"I definitely think they add something to the neighborhood," Minkin said. "Old West Lawrence is kind of a destination for people who want to look at some of the more beautiful parts of the city. The brick streets just help take you back in time."
Thiel hopes to gather comments from neighborhoods in November and present guidelines for city commissioners to consider in December or January.