Center Square Piloting Two Green Technologies For City

By Jason Kreke | Friday, October 21, 2011

A crew installs a open-bottom catch basin pavement design that allows storm water to filter into the ground. Credit: Jason Kreke

Long associated with garbage, rats and potholes, alleys in Lincoln Square and Northcenter are going green. Under pilot programs by the city, some alleys are receiving new lighting and surfaces to make them more environmentally friendly.

Ald. Ameya Pawar’s office recently announced that it will be installing new lights that are typically found at car dealerships in alleys around Lincoln Square and Ravenswood. The new metal halide lamps will use about half the amount of energy as the current vapor lamps that give off the familiar orange-yellow glow. Initiated by the Bureau of Electricity and funded by the federal stimulus act, the new lights fit into the city’s plan for a “green” infrastructure. The new alley lights are part of a larger city project that will replace current lights among a few major streets, such as Western avenue, with the new white lights. 

“The plan fits into the general framework of improving ‘green’ infrastructure by consuming nearly half the energy of old lamps,” said Pawar staffer Bill Higgins via e-mail. “[The Bureau of Electricity] saw this as an opportunity to start the process of improving the city’s aging electrical infrastructure.”

A major difference of the new lamps over the current sodium vapor lamps will be light color. The white lamps show a broader spectrum of color and are favored by car dealerships, the Chicago Police Department, and some transportation safety experts, according to Higgins. The old lights have an orange tint to everything, which can change a person’s perception of a color. The truer colors offered by the new metal halide lamps should make color identification easier. 

The effects of the new lights can sometimes be perceived as brighter because of the color of the lights. “The old sodium vapor lamps have roughly the same brightness—measured in lumen output—as the new metal halide lamps,” Higgins said.

Residents should not expect to find in their alleys car dealership-style lights, which are much higher wattage and in more density. “Shields or flat lenses can be installed if residents find the new lights to be a negative impact on quality of life. “In most cases, the old lights were just as much of a nuisance, which is why their extra fixtures were added,” Higgins said. “We are working with the Bureau of Electricity to have these replaced or find other solutions.” The new light will have “semi-cutoff” hoods and lenses that are dark sky-compliant and designed to reduce light pollution and provide uniform illumination. With the semi-cutoff hoods, 5 percent of light will be emitted upward and 20 percent or less at an 80 degree angle, Higgins said. With the new lights, the orange horizon of Chicago can be a thing of the past.

The new lights program is not the only green improvement to the area’s alleys. The city recently completed the last greening of an alley as part of its Green Alley program on north Ravenswood. The program, which just finished the last alley of its pilot phase, removes the familiar black top surface and replaces it with a permeable concrete.

“We tried to get the alley replaced for about four years,” said Maggie Finegan, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Lincoln Square. “Under a new rule, all new alleys that are replaced need to be green.”

The alley runs along a stretch of Ravenswood that serves 16 townhouses. The blacktop was replaced with a permeable concrete material that allows water to filter through to the ground. After the original blacktop was removed, a limestone base was installed about 18 inches into the ground. The concrete was then poured on top.

Homeowners needed to foot the bill for the section leading to the garages because it is considered private property. Instead of having water pooling on the blacktop, it is now directed to two strips of permeable concrete the run along the center section. During the pouring of the concrete, the city conducted core sample inspections of the material to ensure it would allow the water to properly seep through. The result is an alley with a lower carbon footprint than its blacktop predecessor.

“Everybody here loves it,” Finegan said. “It doesn’t heat up as much when it is warm, and it is nice because it got rid of the black tar that people kept dragging into their garages and houses.”

The new lights and green alleys are part of a larger overall trend of ensuring neighborhoods and residences maintain environmentally friendly features. As a real estate agent, Finegan said she sees these green aspects becoming a factor in the value of homes in the future. “Green aspects of properties already are heavily featured on the west coast and are becoming a factor here,” she said. “Homeowners will need to start thinking of green aspects to their homes. Having a green alley is definitely a part of it. It is an important aspect. People are begging to get a green alley.”

According to Higgins, all newly reconstructed alleys will be within the guidelines of Chicago’s Green Alley program. In addition, the Chicago Sustainable Backyard program helps to reduce alley flooding.

The implementation of new lighting and green alleys is not the only project currently underway to help green the city. “We are also working to improve pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation infrastructure to give people more options than driving,” Higgins said.

For the 47th Ward, Ernie Constantino, Director of Constituent Services, is heading up a newly formed Green Council. The council will address several green and sustainable issues in the ward:

  • Food Day Oct. 24
  • Vacant lot assessment for urban agricultural application
  • Fall energy efficiency outreach and workshop (date TBA)
  • Developing a 47th Ward Green Guide based on a ward audit
  • Developing policies for greening 47th Ward festivals in 2012
  • Researching parkway biofiltration projects and possible grant application
  • Establishing a 47th Ward Tree Corps
  • Northcenter Neighbors corner gardens native plants initiative
  • Various LEED and green buildings being constructed in ward
  • Lawrence Avenue streetscape permeable areas/biofiltration

47th Ward residents interested in participating in the Green Council should email ernie@chicago47.org.

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