New sidewalks are coming to Washington Avenue — to the great dismay of residents.
When city workers rip out the curbs and cement, they will cut back the roots of any tree that has started to grow under the sidewalk. If the root system must be trimmed so thoroughly that the tree would not have enough strength to stand, it will be cut down.
There are at least six large, mature trees that have already heaved the nearby pieces of cement, and it’s likely that all of them will have to go.
Others may need to be removed as well.
“There’s normally not enough left to support the tree,” Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said.
The small cherry trees are unlikely to cause a problem. But residents don’t want to lose the large, shade-providing trees that provide a partial canopy over the street.
Resident Liz Kemp said she’d rather not have sidewalks at all if she had to choose between them and the trees.
“I say leave the trees. They were here before we were,” she said.
She added that she doesn’t mind stepping over the cracked and heaved pieces of cement, even in slippery weather.
“What’s it matter? It ain’t like we’re eating on the sidewalk. We’re walking on the sidewalk,” she said.
Resident David Giacalone is trying to organize formal opposition to the plan. He agrees with Kemp that the trees are more important than new sidewalks.
“We saw what happened to North Ferry Street,” he said, referring to the 2008 paving project there. “It’s an abomination. Someone needs to do something about this.”
He added that he was astounded to learn that the city could simply remove the trees. Almost every change in the neighborhood is governed by the Historic District Commission, which has wide leeway to reject everything from new structures to paint colors.
“The city can take down all the mature trees in a neighborhood where if a homeowner wants to paint a shutter, they have to ask permission? How can this be?” he said.
He has some support. City Council member Barbara Blanchard, who also lives in a historic district, has intervened to set up a meeting between city officials and neighborhood leaders.
She wants to find alternatives to the tree removal, including routing sidewalks around trees or simply not replacing portions of the sidewalk.
“We never used to replace sidewalk when we paved, and it would be cheaper,” she said, adding, “I believe there are ways to save at least some of the big trees.”
The city could fix the most damaged parts of the sidewalk without touching the trees. By far, the most cracked and uneven section of sidewalk has no trees to get in the way of repaving.
Workers could also add curb cuts without disturbing trees. The entire stretch of road has no curb cuts on either side, making the sidewalks virtually impassible to those in wheelchairs.
Blanchard said she would support any plan that doesn’t involve the trees.
“We should save all we can,” she said.
Olsen said the engineering department has developed a plan that delineates precisely which trees will be saved and which will be removed. The engineers did not return repeated phone calls seeking that information.
Judging solely from the trees that have heaved up portions of the sidewalk already, at least six are on the removal list. Four of them are on the final block of Washington Avenue, just before the park. Three trees on one side and another tree on the other have pushed the sidewalk upwards, in one case moving the concrete more than six inches.
By the YWCA, another large tree has raised the sidewalk about three inches. It also is likely to go if the city’s plans are not changed.