Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pedestrians and trees learn to coexist

For those who missed the front-page story in the Seattle Times today (Trees versus Houses), there is quite a brouhaha in Madrona right now over an attempt to move two historic Craftsman houses out of the neighborhood in order to make way for expansion of the Epiphany School. Trees would have to be cut (or temporarily moved) along the E. Howell Street escape route, and the affected homeowners are objecting.

Some of us remember that in our neighborhood six years ago there was a slight controversy, quickly resolved, about moving an historic house up 39th Street E. from a lot several blocks south of Madison to one several blocks to the north. In that case, no trees had to be temporarily relocated, but many trees did have to be cut back significantly along the street. The homeowners went along, and the move proceeded without a hitch.

Which is not to say that we are laid back about our trees here in the Park. Far from it. When the sidewalk repairs began last year in the business district along Madison, many residents became incensed at the idea that tree roots would be cut and some trees potentially removed in the process. Although the Madison Park Community Council (MPCC) and the City made every effort to publicize the sidewalk improvement program, everyone was not aware and many were not on board when work began in the area around Bert’s, Tully’s and what was then the Washington Mutual branch.

Jim Hagan, a member of the Council, worked closely with the City on the project. The big problem, he said, was that people were being injured because the sidewalks were cracking and buckling as the result of tree-root encroachment. There have been broken arms, hips and wrists reported as a result of sidewalk falls by pedestrians, he said. And in one case, a person actually lost an eye. It had become increasingly clear that something had to be done to improve pedestrian safety in Madison Park.

The non-profit group Historic Madison Park made the first request to the City for a grant to improve sidewalks along Madison. Both the MPCC and the local business community were enthusiastic about the idea and the three groups agreed to form a streetscape committee to decide where to utilize the grant dollars. According to Hagan, committee members walked the street and concluded that the area in front of Washington Mutual was definitely the worst stretch of sidewalk. Drainage was a problem, and several trees (whose roots could not be pruned without killing the trees) would have to be removed. Although a lot of people were then up in arms, the project moved forward successfully--and last fall three replacement trees (paperbark maples) were planted in front of the Chase branch:

With that success, another grant was applied for and the second-worst area (in front of Scoop du Jour) was tackled. Some residents were upset to see the City’s official notices on the trees that they might have to be removed:

But in the end, all of the trees were saved, although some roots were pruned. In some places a special sidewalk was installed that will hopefully allow for the growing roots to have less impact than they would have on regular pavement:

According to Hagan the next area of concern is in front of Starbuck’s, where at least one tree will have to go. Later, the area in front of the Wells Fargo branch will be the target. The City, he said, has been very supportive of the community’s efforts. He noted that the City arborist would only agree to remove a tree if there was no other reasonable solution. But occasionally a big old tree must be sacrificed. As Hagan notes, “sometimes pedestrian safety outweighs a tree.”


  1. Thanks to Jim Hagen for being the tree target man. Common sense and public safety have prevailed in our neighborhood! Tree-huggers look around and notice all of the older Madison Park residents (which you will be some day) walking around the Park. They are not as steady as they used to be and when they fall bones break easier and don't heal as well. A tree or a branch? They will be just fine once trimmed or replanted. And if the tree dies, maybe it wasn't healthy anyway. It's ironic that the lady who owned the Madrona trees had no problem with having them trimmed, it was a neighbor who voiced the tragedy at having the trees cut back!

  2. I am in total agreement with you on this Will. I received my first broken bone in my life (my jawbone) during my first year in Madison Park, when I fell on the sidewalk next to my home. I thus had the opportunity at 50 years old of getting my first stitches. Thanks to the bad sidewalks around here I now have a chin scar of the kind that many five year olds can boast. I love trees, but they do have consequences.


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