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Street Tree Solution 

by Mayor Deniis Hession & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & ith a strong voice in the fall of 2004, the citizens of Spokane declared war on the corrugated streets of Spokane. This mandate came in the form of the approval of the $117 million street bond by more than 61 percent of the voters. Pivotal to its success was the commitment to save the proceeds solely for the street reconstruction. The streets specifically slated for repair were identified prior to the vote. The city of Spokane promised 110 miles of reconstructed streets in 10 years, and we are delivering.


A few years ago, our citizens -- in large numbers -- participated in an effort to create a new Comprehensive Plan for the city. That plan, which is designed to provide a 20-year road map for growth, was adopted in May 2001. The plan set our centers-and-corridors growth strategy in motion, demanded we pursue in-fill development and set out goals for growing the city through annexation.


Through the Comprehensive Plan process, we established covenants with our citizens, including concepts like how streets should look, how we view street trees and where pedestrian and bike amenities should exist. The plan also expects the city to maintain an arterial street system to facilitate movement of people and goods throughout the community in such a way as to promote efficiency and safety.


The street bond and the Comprehensive Plan are not mutually exclusive. When we encounter a situation where we are trying to effectuate each of these charges, it is the responsibility of the city government to interpret and implement them. At times, the balance is challenging.


Today, we are experiencing just such a situation. One of the street bond projects, identified by the citizens and pre-selected by the Citizens Advisory Committee, is the reconstruction of Bernard Street, a minor arterial, between 14th and 29th avenues.


Next week, 17 trees will be removed by a city contractor in advance of that project, and some citizens have objected, claiming that the city isn't complying with the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan clearly supports trees, and it also supports streets. So what is the solution?


My support for our street trees is well documented. While on the Spokane Park Board, we adopted legislation creating the Urban Forestry Committee, approved the vegetative management plan and orchestrated the inventory of each of the city's street trees. I am a strong advocate for these trees; they enhance the urban landscape, and I applaud our citizens who support maintaining trees in their neighborhoods. They are special assets.


However, the Bernard Street reconstruction project identified two issues related to the adjacent street trees. The first was that there were numerous trees that were not healthy. Take a walk with the city's arborist, who will point out slime rot, Dutch Elm disease, large empty internal cavities and trees that were damaged trying to accommodate overhead power lines. Eleven trees must be removed regardless of the reconstruction process. The second issue is that, in the reconstruction process, the roots of certain trees will inevitably be undermined, making them unstable, dangerous and/or likely damaged to the point that they will die as a result. Constrained in planting strips far too small for these species of trees, these trees have been stunted, have broken out sidewalks, and in some cases, invaded the street itself.


Some have suggested that the trees could be saved by simply changing the curb alignment to narrow the street. This plan would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which could not be paid for out of the street bond, and for which there are no capital dollars available to finance. It would also require the city to redo its arterial street plan because Bernard traffic would be shifted to other arterials or residential streets. This is where the balancing process results in a decision to remove and replace a few trees in deference to a major rehabilitation of Bernard Street.


We should also remember where this project started. Initially, the city proposed removing 23 trees along Bernard. After presenting this information at a number of neighborhood meetings, talking with property owners and holding a major open house to inform the public and listen to their opinions, we made changes.


I asked our arborist to go back, excavate and investigate the root structure of the trees to see if there was any way possible to preserve additional trees. He was successful, and we expect to protect six of the 23 trees. We thank the neighbors and our Engineering Services and Parks departments for encouraging us to take a second look.


But that's not all we're doing. We are replanting more trees than we are removing. We will repair the sidewalks and curbs that are damaged in the removal process. We will re-stripe the road to calm traffic and create a more pedestrian-friendly environment. We will also add additional trees at the fire station and next to Manito Park along Bernard Street.


This project gives appropriate deference to both the street bond mandate and the Comprehensive Plan. The balance is reasonable, and the result will be an enhanced street and a healthier urban forest.


Every day, we face decisions that require us to weigh the issues, interpret policy and come up with solutions. This is the job of government.





Dennis Hession is the mayor of Spokane.

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