Let's Hope The Brick Sidewalk Plan Isn't Set In Concrete Yet

September 19, 1990|By Russ Mullaly

Work is going to begin soon on an improvement program for the Main Street area of historic Ellicott City. The program involves adding a new parking lot, landscaping, brick sidewalks and crosswalks, and a rest area with benches and picnic tables. Around $500,000 has been allotted for the project.

Main Street, Ellicott City, is an area all Howard countians can be proud of, and if it were not for historic preservation groups, it might have been razed or lost to development a number of years back. We who live in Howard County applaud those who have looked after and continue to help improve and restore this picturesque focal point of our county.

There is one point of this latest project, however, that I question: the brick sidewalks and crosswalks. Now don't get me wrong. I love Ellicott City, and I'm not trying to fault the good intentions of the historic preservation people. I know that brick sidewalks do look attractive, and that the planners are aware that they are not historically correct for the Main Street area. The original paving materials were cobblestone, wood and granite blocks.

The planners feel that the bricks would look good and contribute to the area's 19th-century atmosphere.

I think that the bricks will have more drawbacks than advantages for Main Street -- that is, unless a new way of installing them has been found that will keep them flush and level forever.

I was going to be a wise guy and suggest to save money that bricks could be sold with contributors' names engraved on them, a la Town Center in Columbia. Or perhaps have the bricks in front of the shops engraved with the names of former businesses that were forced out by higher rents. But I'm being serious and, I hope, helpful.

Let's examine the number of things that can happen and have happened to brick sidewalks and streets: *The bricks become uneven due to frost heaves. This is rough on strollers and wheelchairs. This beautification may drive away people rather than attract more, if stroller- and wheelchair-users find their ride too jarring.

*Weeds somehow find a way to grow between the bricks. I know, because we have a brick walkway around our back porch, and we weed the mortar regularly! Do we really want to spray herbicides -- which will eventually get into the water table -- to control the weeds between the bricks?

*What about snow shovels and plows chipping and cracking the bricks?

These will create more maintenance problems.

*What about roots from the new trees eventually causing problems with upheaval of the bricks?

All you have to do is visit St. Michael's and Oxford over on the Eastern Shore and see what has happened to a lot of brick sidewalks over there.

When our son was a little fellow, it was difficult, if not impossible, to get his stroller down certain streets because of the uneven brick surfaces.

In fact, walking itself was difficult with the protruding bricks. We ended up having to get the stroller out into the roadway to find a smooth surface, and of course, dodge traffic. Or one person carried said child, and the other one carried the stroller -- not convenient or a heck of a lot of fun!

The money for the brick sidewalks could be set aside and used to help the building owners restore their properties by using a matching-funds type of plan. I know brick sidewalks look great, but the maintenance and rolling surface problem for wheeled vehicles would offset the good looks.

You don't want people saying to their friends, "Don't go to Main Street, Ellicott City, because the bricks will vibrate out what teeth your kid has while you're pushing him in his stroller." And of course, what about the elderly and handicapped having to deal with the heaved-up bricks after a particularly bad winter? Still yet, we can't forget those people who like to sue over most anything: "Your Honor, because I tripped over a brick on Main Street, I have lost the ability to perform my job adequately." You see these sorts of litigations in the news all too frequently.

I noticed that the shop owners would be "encouraged" to install brick pavers in front of their buildings, sharing the cost with the county government. Will they share the cost of the upkeep with the county as well?

I don't mean to appear to be a troublemaker in any way, and I am aware that only certain portions of the Main Street area will be paved with bricks. I just want to offer "constructive" criticism. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but I've seen what happens to brick sidewalks and streets. After a while, it's not a pretty sight.

Is it too late to rethink this decision? Or is it set in concrete?

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