Dear PoPville – Is it a Good Idea to Use Resources to Repave Functional Alleys?

“Dear PoPville,

I’m hoping you or your readers can provide some information. As you know, Hobart St in Mt. Pleasant is kind of different: no cross streets, but with long alleys paralleling it on either side. Recently, the entire north alley was torn up and re-bricked (I assume by the city). Do you have any knowledge about why this happened, or about whether similar work is planned for the south alley? I’d be curious to know what your readers think about whether this is a good idea. It is certainly very nice now, but seems somewhat of a waste of money given that it was functional before. After all, it’s an alley.”

It’s funny but I’ve always been impressed with Mt. Pleasant’s alleys. As one who wonders alleys probably more than most – I think Mt. Pleasant’s are the nicest in the city. I wish the powers that be paid as much attention to the Deauville/Monsenor Romero apartment building that burned down at 3145 Mt. Pleasant St, NW in March 2008. But back to the alley – I’ll ask DDOT if they can share their schedule of repaving alleys.

Though not related to this situation DDOT did send an interesting press release yesterday announcing:

“District’s First Green Alley Pilot Project Now Underway

Today the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) launched its first Green Alley Pilot Project, initiating construction in an alley in Northeast Washington. The Green Alley Pilot is aimed at reducing the quantity and improving the quality of stormwater run-off within the District’s right-of-way (ROW). The program is being implemented in partnership with the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“Our green alley program demonstrates how we are continuously evolving to ensure that our infrastructure and operations remain sustainable, said DDOT Director Terry Bellamy. “The green alley concept has the potential to shape how we design our right-of-way beyond our alleys.”

Although many alleys include a significant amount of impervious surface, most do not have stormwater controls, such as water quality catch basin or grate inlets. To mitigate this, green alleys use sustainable design and Low Impact Development (LID) techniques that reduce the amount of stormwater and pollutants entering the sewer system by increasing water infiltration and treatment on site.

Throughout the United States, Green Alley projects are being used as an effective and innovative way to manage storm water runoff and pollution. In Chicago, for example, more than 80 green alleys have been successfully completed since 2006.

Three initial Green Alley sites are included in DDOT’s pilot program. The sites are located along the Watts Branch Watershed in northeast Washington at the following blocks:

· Alley between 54th Street, Blaine Street, 55th Street, & Clay Street
· Alley between 56th Street, Eads Street and 57th Street
· Alley between 58th Street, Dix Street, 59th Street and Clay Street

DDOT will construct Green Alleys by replacing gravel, impervious concrete or asphalt surfaces with permeable concrete, asphalt or brick paver materials. Permeable pavement has pores or openings that allow water to pass through the surface, then percolate down through a gravel layer and into the soil below rather than running off into sewers.

DDOT estimates it will take approximately two months to complete each alley. Upon completing the work DDOT will monitor these four sites to determine the effectiveness and durability of the materials.”

16 Comment

  • andy

    it’s a way to increase water-permeable space in the city without tearing up roadways. it decreases flooding and runoff from alleys and is one way to help keep nasty things from flowing into the Anacostia and Potomac and then into the Chesapeake.

    So yes, the alleyways are serviceable but they are not ideal. I can understand when people say we should spend more on priority X over priority Y, but there is at least one priority aligned with putting in more permeable surfaces. And don’t forget that you can do this kind of thing at your own house as well – you don’t have to put down an impermeable slab for your patio, for instance.

  • Great with the green allies guys. Now tell me why DC ripped up our perfectly functional (but slightly bumpy) alleyway in Bloomingdale that was paved in bricks and paved it with concrete.

    • andy

      Complain to your ANC Member! No, wait, he’s from Michigan Park, he won’t care.

    • claire

      Hey, think we share an alley – I’m kind of bummed about it too! The brick was definitely a nicer look than the concrete (which I suspect won’t stay around for longer) though it is much easier to drive on now… Wish they had held off and put a green alley in there!

  • I live in an alley (court, rather) that hasn’t seen any repaving action since the 80’s. Wouldn’t mind getting some work done here.

  • I sure wish they’d do the alley behind the 1800 block of Kenyon St. It’s a mess. They did the 1800 alley between Kenyon and Kilbourne a few years ago, and it is a big improvement. Plus, it makes it easier to play basketball. But I have to say, one thing that impressed us when we were first looking at our house in 1993 was how pristine the alley was.

  • The alley between the 1700 blocks of Columbia Road and Lanier Place NW has been in need of repaving for YEARS.

    I contacted Jim Graham about it in 2007 and DDOT did some patching shortly thereafter. DDOT said it was scheduled to be repaved in 2009.

    No repaving ever happened, and I contacted Jim Graham again earlier this year after some of the potholes had become really, really bad. DDOT did some more patching, and said that the alley had been placed in their repaving scheduled for fiscal year 2012.

    Making alleys “green” is all very well and good, but it seems like DDOT ought to focus on the alleys that are badly in need of repair before taking alleys that are functional and “green”-ifying them.

  • Hold on there…many of the alley’s in MtP are in bad shape. Mine was supposed to be done in 2010, but due to budget issues never got done.

    The alley behind the 1700 block of Newton Street is in such bad shape that in the winters it turns into an ice skating rink because it holds so much water that it freezes…yes, our potholes are that big!

  • Thanks for the post. I’ve talked to some neighbors on Hobart, and they don’t seem to know the story either. It sounds superficially like one of the “green alleys”, with permeable brick pavers, but when they were installing the bricks I noticed that they first poured a concrete foundation upon which the bricks rest. So stormwater is not going to just percolate down through the bricks and into the soil. Anyway, kind of a big project, I’m surprised it’s so mysterious.

  • My alley is crappy and filthy.

  • If these are the same alleys I remember years ago from my time in Mt. Pleasant, they hold some sort of historic status. The Belgian block material used to pave them must be replaced with the same type of paver when the alleys are refurbished. Yes, it is expensive and time-consuming.

  • With permeable pavers set in sand I wonder if everyones’ basement will flood with the onset of a bout of heavy rain.

  • They completely renovated our alley with brick last year, a much welcomed change from over 10 years of the lumpy mess we had before. Unfortunately its warping again, and full of glass and trash due to shoddy work that trash pickup crews do, but at least its better than before.

  • Our alley was repaved with brick several years ago (yes, the brick is — or was — designated only for historic alleys) and it still looks fine. Not sure about the permeability of it, although I’m sure it’s better than solid asphalt. Maybe now they’re using brick everywhere they repave.

    I’m curious about the maintenance DDOT, DDOE and/or DPW plans on providing to any permeable surfaces DDOE installs. Once clogged with dirt and silt, they lose their permeability.

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