City Unveils “Greenest Street in America” in Pilsen Neighborhood

October 9, 2012

Sustainable Technologies Used to Build New Streetscape Along Cermak and Blue Island

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) today unveiled the “greenest street in America,” the first phase of a two-mile stretch of Blue Island Avenue and Cermak Road in the Pilsen neighborhood that is an unprecedented demonstration of how cutting-edge sustainable design and “complete streets” principles can be implemented in the public right of way. 

“This project demonstrates a full range of sustainable design techniques that improve the urban ecosystem, promote economic development, increase the safety and usability of streets for all users, and build healthy communities,” said CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. “It provides both mitigation and adaptation strategies by reducing its carbon footprint and integrating technologies that allow the infrastructure to address and adapt to climate change.”

The Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Streetscape has received quantifiable results by setting aggressive sustainability goals in eight performance areas such as stormwater management, material reuse, energy reduction, and placemaking.

The $14 million streetscape project is the first in the country to balance and incorporate such a wide spectrum of sustainable performance into a single urban roadway.  The project was funded largely through Tax Increment Financing, as well as $800,000 worth of grants from the Federal Highway Administration, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Midwest Generation.

“This incredible project has improved the infrastructure and quality of life of the Pilsen Community by creating the greenest street in the country,” said Ald. Daniel Solis (25th Ward).  “Sustainability projects like this advance change in the public and private sectors and demonstrate the city’s ability to lead by example.”

This not only allows the infrastructure to perform better over time, it saves money over the life of the project.  This is achieved in part through commissioning, modeling, and monitoring done in partnership with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) to drive future watershed planning in the combined sewer area. 

Notable achievements of the project include:

Material Recycling and Innovation

  • This is the first commercial roadway application of photocatalytic cement, which cleans the surface of the roadway and removes nitrogen oxide (NOx) gases from the surrounding air through a catalytic reaction driven by UV light.
  • More than 60% of all construction waste was recycled. More than 23% of all new materials were sourced from recycled content.
  • First installation of sidewalk concrete with 30% recycled content in the City. First installation of roadway asphalt that includes reclaimed asphalt pavement, slag, ground tire rubber, reclaimed asphalt shingles, and warm mix technology.

Stormwater Management

  • The project is diverting up to 80% of the typical average annual rainfall from the combined sewer through a combination of bioswales, rain gardens, permeable pavements, and stormwater features.
  • Partnered with the Department of Housing and Economic Development and Chicago Public Schools to create two public plazas that infiltrate stormwater (including water from the roof of Juarez Community Academy) and include seating and educational opportunities.

Water Efficiency

  • Eliminated the use of potable water for all landscape irrigation.
  • Piloted 95 drought tolerant, native plant species in bioswales and infiltration planters to evaluate effectiveness in roadside conditions.

Energy Reduction

  • Reduced the energy use of the street by 42% and used dark-sky friendly light fixtures.
  • Installed the first permanent wind/solar powered pedestrian lights and the first LED pedestrian light poles on a streetscape in  Chicago.
  • 76% of all materials used were manufactured and extracted within 500 miles of the project site; and 23% of all materials were within 200 miles of the project site.
  • Piloted use of microthin concrete overlay to extend pavement life and increase solar reflectance.

Urban Heat Island Effect Reduction / Air Quality

  • Installed high albedo pavement surfaces to decrease the urban heat island effect, representing 40% of the total public right of way.
  • Provided a 131% increase in landscape and tree canopy cover. Ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel used for construction vehicles.

Community and Education

  • Developed community identifier with education kiosks, a walking tour brochure, and a guide book in Spanish and English that provide a wide range of information about the sustainable best practices used in the project.

Alternative Transportation

  • Installed a pedestrian refuge island in Cermak Road adjacent to Juarez Community Academy, and curb-corner extensions throughout the project, in order to improve pedestrian safety.
  • Installed ½ mile of new bike lanes on Blue Island Avenue. Improved bus stop areas with signage, shelters and lighting

Monitoring and Evaluation

  • In partnership with MWRD, modeled and monitored stormwater best management practices to analyze design, ensure predicted performance, and determine maintenance practices. Performed air quality testing to analyze photocatalytic impacts on air quality. 
  • Developed a maintenance protocol with the community to transition maintenance responsibility from the City over a two year period. For the first time, required that a streetscape contractor fully track and document the use of recycled content, recycled materials, and local manufacture and extraction on the project.

CDOT is at the forefront of developing and implementing great urban infrastructure, using the public right of way to create sustainable, vibrant, public space.  At roughly a quarter of the City’s land area, the streets and alleys have the potential to save energy, harvest water and even, perhaps, be carbon-neutral. 

CDOT has embarked on creating Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Guidelines and Policies that will embrace and expand upon the environmental benefits of Complete Streets and help to create and maintain a city where all Chicagoans benefit from a high quality of life without depleting our natural resources.

These guidelines, expected to be formalized next year, will help improve approaches to managing stormwater, reducing the heat island effect, adapting infrastructure to changing climate conditions, improving neighborhood quality of life, increasing economic development, and minimizing the use of scarce resources.

“We are committed to improving how we address water, air quality, sustainable materials and energy consumption in our city’s infrastructure while creating places people enjoy living and working,” said Karen Weigert, Chicago Chief Sustainability Officer.  “Projects like these show that the transportation right-of-way is an essential component for improving environmental conditions, as well as mobility and accessibility in Chicago.”

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