Taganti-pollution

Construction update: Pilsen streetscape improvement

The most popular posts on Steven Can Plan are Chicago infrastructure construction updates.

In October 2009 I told you about the Cermak/Blue Island Streetscape project from the Chicago Department of Transportation. The article was called, “Pollution fighting bike lane coming to Pilsen.” I was kind of skeptical at first, but never mentioned this to anyone.

I’m happy to say it’s a reality and you can see the world’s first (I think) bike lane made of permeable pavers that have an ingredient that reduces the amount of nitrogen oxide in the nearby air. On Tuesday I was riding to Bridgeport via south Halsted Street and saw the construction on Cermak Street. I rode west to check it out. Then I saw work happening on Blue Island Avenue and had to check it out. These’re the results!

The construction situation at the northwest corner of Halsted and Cermak, where new sidewalks will be built.

Some vaulted sidewalks are being filled in.

The pollution fighting bike lane! Not complete: it needs signage and striping so you may see people parking in the future bike lane. The top inch of the permeable pavers has TX Aria from Italcementi.

Pollution fighting bike lane, coming soon to Pilsen

Rendering of the project by CDOT. See all photos about this project.

A planner from the Streetscape and Sustainable Design Program in the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) came to speak to my Sustainable Development Techniques class at UIC about adding “green” to urban design.

Among other topics, he talked about CDOT’s streetscape project for Cermak and Blue Island in Pilsen, a near southwest side neighborhood a couple miles outside of downtown Chicago. The project, like all streetscapes, is one of economic development. But this project is unique in that the goal was to look at every element and make each as green and sustainable as possible.

You can read about the project through the Program’s presentation here (Flash slideshow). Please note there are many versions of the same presentation on the web and each my be different depending on their intended audience.

I will be discussing a single showcase element from the project: A bike lane on Blue Island between Ashland and Western where currently one does not exist. The bike lane and the adjacent parking lane (on the bike lane’s right side, as normal in Chicago) will be constructed with permeable pavers mixed with smog eating concrete. Wait? Smog eating concrete? Keep reading!

The bike lane will begin at Ashland/Cermak/Blue Island, a well-traveled intersection for heavy trucks, three bus routes, and many passenger cars. The bike lane will connect Pilsen to Little Village and extend the existing bike lane on Blue Island in Pilsen’s central shopping area. This segment is also a designated truck route and to safely accommodate the parking lane, bike lane, and travel lane, the road will be widened by reducing the width of the sidewalks. The sidewalks here are 20 feet wide, double the standard width, and four times wider than sidewalks in many parts of Chicago. There’s very low pedestrian volume here and very little residential use so the plan is to have 8 foot wide sidewalks, and a 5.5 foot planter, breaking occasionally for bus stop shelters.

The bike lane will be 5 feet wide (including striping) and the parking lane will be 8 feet wide. The novel part of the two lanes is that they will be made with permeable pavers.

This will be the first paver bike lane in the City of Chicago. The blocks will be oriented so that bicyclists feel the least amount of bumps and won’t get their tire stuck in a groove that could harm.

The smog eating concrete’s trade name is TX Active, invented by Italcementi Group, a large, multinational corporation founded and based in Italy. Since the original installation of TX Active cement on the Dives in Misericordia Church in Rome (designed by Richard Meier), Italcementi has developed two lines of photocatalytic cement, only one of which reduces pollutants in the area (TX Arca). The other cement is for architectural uses helps keep the concrete surface clean from dirt and particulate matter.

CDOT will use the second line, TX Aria, in the top half inch of the pavers. The company has tested the product to demonstrate its effectiveness at reducing the presence of Nitrogen Oxides (commonly written as NOx, a family of toxic substances emitted by internal combustion engines) and published its laboratory results in an easy to follow report on its website (PDF). The technical report goes into more details and explains how the process works (through photocatalysis) and what substances their product can be designed to diminish. The technical report is unclear on whether or not all forms of the TX Active product abate all substances. It may be that the maker only tested its effects on Nitrogen Oxides levels.

I look forward to watching the construction progress and to breathing the cleaner air while bicycling to a new destination in Pilsen.

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