We were pleased to have the opportunity yesterday to host Thomas Hylton for a tour of our urban forestry work, and some of the other green infrastructure projects we have completed in the watershed. Tom is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist from Pottstown, PA, the founder of Trees. Inc, and the President of Save Our Lands, Save Our Towns. He was in Pittsburgh to present at a Post-Agenda session for Pittsburgh City Council on Sidewalk Materials, called by Councilwoman Deb Gross.
He shared with Council members the innovative work that has been done in Pottstown over the last 20 years to preserve the life of large, mature street trees by re-thinking how to handle tree & sidewalk conflicts. He challenged the idea that concrete is the ideal material for sidewalks, showing how even in the absence of trees, it is prone to cracking, and spalling, and before long panels become uneven, leading to tripping hazards. In many parts of the world asphalt is the standard material used for sidewalks, and it is much more friendly to trees because it is flexible. It is also easier and cheaper to repair when repairs are needed. It can be painted with slip-proof paint so the surface will stay cool in the summer – the product used to mark out bike lanes in cities around the world.
Pottstown is also experimenting with porous materials such as Flexi-Pave. Many of you know that
NMRWA completed the first installation of this material, made of recycled tires, gravel, and polyurethane, in Southwestern PA in 2011 on S. Trenton Ave. across the street from what is now Biddle’s Escape Coffee Shop. It can infiltrate a remarkable amount of water – only in the most severe storms is any runoff produced.
Right now porous materials like Flexi-Pave are considerably more expensive than concrete, because few people or municipalities are using them. If usage increased, the price would come down. However, asphalt is cheaper than concrete and clearly preferable for a variety of reasons.
Hopefully one day soon Pittsburgh can become as progressive as Pottstown and update its ordinance that currently requires sidewalks to be constructed of concrete. It would be great to see experimentation with a variety of solutions that benefit our urban forest infrastructure, which is becoming more important than ever as we begin to experience directly the effects of climate change.
Thanks to Tom Hylton for sharing his insights and experience with us!