The Washington Post

These fake brick crosswalks may be better than the real thing

This may look like a brick crosswalk, but it isn’t. (Ennis-Flint)

That brick crosswalk you’re walking on? Look closer, it may not actually be brick.

Innovative methods of treating asphalt give cities and towns the popular look of a brick finish, without the hassle of laying and maintaining traditional bricks.

“Brick is so expensive. It looks nice, but there’s a maintenance issue,” said Bob Astrella, a civil engineer in Boston’s department of public works. “This is a hell of a lot easier to repair than brick crosswalks. If they’re ever going to get dug up, bricks are a pain … to reassemble.”

Traditional brick crosswalks and sidewalks tend to have a tripping hazard. The ground under the bricks will often shift over time into an uneven surface. This can result in individual bricks jutting upward and even dislodging from the surface. When a surface is actually just a solid layer of asphalt made to resemble brick, there’s no threat of a surface ending up like this one.

A traditional brick sidewalk ages into a nightmare for anyone in a wheelchair or wearing high-heel shoes. (Matt McFarland/The Washington Post)

The technology, often going under the name of Street Print or TrafficPatterns, is offered by Quest Construction Products and Ennis-Flint. Before appearing in the United States similar technology was being used by a Canadian company. In cold climates where snow plow use is common, maintaining smooth roadways surfaces that can survive the wear of a plow is crucial. Since the apparent bricks are actually just the asphalt road surface, they won’t rip up like a traditional brick that shifted upward over the years.

To create the brick finish the asphalt must first be heated. Then a metal grid resembling the outline of bricks is placed on the road and pressed into it. That creates a convincing outline resembling the pattern of traditional bricks. Then a brick-colored paint or plastic substance is applied — via spray or squeegee.

A faux brick crosswalk is installed in Washington, D.C. (Matt McFarland/The Washington Post) A faux brick crosswalk is installed in Washington, D.C. (Matt McFarland/The Washington Post)

“Most people can’t tell that they’re walking over asphalt not brick,” said Jacob Dobson, a pavement systems technical service leader at Quest Construction Products. “It’s one continuous surface. You’re not going to have any worries until the coating eventually wears out. We can come back in five, eight years later and refresh the coating.”

Another benefit is weeds or grass will never grow between the bricks, as the indentation between each “brick” is a shallow impression. Installing traditional brick is also more time intensive, resulting in longer road closures.

Making a cost comparison between a traditional brick surface and asphalt surface decorated to resemble brick is difficult, due to the range of coatings that can be applied, and the varied costs in maintaining the surfaces, depending on the climate and amount of traffic a road receives.

One thing that is easy is to compare, is the risk of theft. A faux brick crosswalk can’t be stolen.

“People actually steal bricks out of my sidewalks, because they think they came with Paul Revere and the boys,” lamented Astrella.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.



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