Pilsen Sustainable Streets (Chicago, Illinois Department of Transporation)

On October 9, 2012, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) completed the first phase of the Pilsen Sustainable Streets project, which uses permeable pavement and green infrastructure elements to address current and projected increases in temperature and precipitation. The sustainability project, described as the “greenest street in America,” consists of a two-mile stretch of Blue Island Avenue and Cermak Road located in the Pilsen neighborhood. The project features will help reduce flooding, manage stormwater, and reduce temperatures, allowing CDOT to address two potential climate impacts with the same project.

Climate change is projected to increase winter and spring precipitation by 10% in the Chicago area by the middle of the century and by 20-30% by the end of the century relative to current seasonal levels. Many of Chicago’s streets are at risk of flooding due to increasingly heavy rainfall and the city’s combined sewer system, which makes stormwater management particularly important.

As stormwater flooding becomes more common due to increasingly heavy rainfall, cities like Chicago are exploring sustainable green infrastructure as a complement to conventional “gray” infrastructure, to protect their streets from current and future flooding. The Pilsen Sustainable Streetscape project contains many green infrastructure elements to increase infiltration of stormwater and reduce flooding of the roadway. These features include bioswales, rain gardens, permeable pavements, and other stormwater management measures. Combined, these elements divert up to 80% of the typical average annual rainfall away from the combined sewer system. Through partnerships with the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development and Chicago Public Schools, CDOT has extended the project beyond the sidewalk and also has created two public plazas that infiltrate stormwater.

To decrease the urban heat island effect, CDOT installed high albedo pavement surfaces. These pavement surfaces represent 40% of the total public right of way. In addition, new vegetation planted as part of the Pilsen Sustainable Streetscape project provides a 131% increase in landscape and tree canopy cover to further shade the right of way, reduce heat, and provide additional stormwater filtration.

Post-installation analysis of the Pilsen Sustainable Streetscape project by CDOT found that sustainable elements not only increases the city’s adaptive capacity but can also reduce costs. CDOT found that the Pilsen Sustainable Streetscape project cost 21% less per block than the average per block cost of 10 other similar conventional projects bid in 2011.

The Pilsen Street project was designed to demonstrate how sustainable design and “complete streets” principles can be implemented in a public right of way. The Pilsen Sustainable Streetscape project set sustainability performance goals in eight adaptation and mitigation areas, including stormwater management and urban heat reduction. Following the success of the Pilsen Sustainable Streetscape project, CDOT has introduced Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Guidelines which will apply to future CDOT projects.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This case study was last updated on May 13, 2016.


Publication Date: October 9, 2012

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