In New York City, the City long ago stopped funding the construction of brick sidewalks.
Why? Simply put. Lawsuits.
If maintenance needs are neglected, a brick sidewalk can quickly become a liability for a few reasons: tree roots cause sidewalks to bulge, bricks come loose and uneven surfaces cause pedestrians to trip and fall. Another issue is that the bumps and uneven services hamper mobility for people with disabilities. In fact, the situation has become so dire that some communities are replacing brick pavers with concrete, which is what Downtown Brooklyn did in 2008 when they replaced brick pavers with concrete.
And then there is cost. In Portland, ME the City estimates that brick costs $130 per square yard, compared to $100 per square yard for concrete.
In Georgetown, Washington DC, a community whose image is nearly synonymous with brick sidewalks states in its 2028 Plan that “Red brick sidewalks are a prominent element of Georgetown’s streetscape. But these sidewalks are often a source of frustration and inconvenience to pedestrians as…uncovered tree boxes make for tricky footing, and bricks that need replacing go untended.” Understandably, the report glosses over the trip and fall hazards (who wants to admit liability and encourage lawsuits?) that have resulted in lawsuits for other BIDs, but the suggestion that the bricks cause a hazard is there nonetheless.
Over the years, many have written about the challenges with brick sidewalks, yet I must say that I continue to attend conferences where architects and planners eagerly display renderings with perfectly laid brick. Sigh.
This piece by blogger Rob Goodspeed, “Where the (Brick) Sidewalk Ends” goes so far as to suggest that “there is an uncertain ethical calculus for brick.” What do you think?