Public Comment

Citizens' Commission Report Shows That Trees and Plants Improve Function of Traffic Circles

Charlene M. Woodcock
Friday November 08, 2019 - 12:36:00 PM
Charlene M. Woodcock

The city staff’s proposal, announced this fall, to cut down traffic circle trees and take over maintenance of all traffic circles raises deep concerns. It is deeply insulting to those well-informed citizens of Berkeley who volunteered many hours of their time as members of the mayor’s traffic circle policy task force, for unelected members of the city staff to put forward a view of these issues as taking precedence over the citizen commission’s findings and policy proposals. Decades ago, neighborhoods that suffered the dangers of high speed through-traffic encouraged the city to put in place traffic-slowing circles. Research has shown that plants and trees, pruned to ensure clear sight lines at driver level, not only beautify the circles but contribute to their calming effect. Volunteers planted and maintain the circles to protect their neighborhoods from speeding traffic, to enhance their neighborhood, and provide the city with the multiple benefits of greenery and trees in our cityscape. 

To propose to cut down the trees that have matured in some of them and that store carbon for us, without a careful analysis of the driver’s sightline in each, is rash and irresponsible. To say that new trees will be planted elsewhere begs the question of where and assumes we don’t know how many years it takes for a tree to mature to its highest carbon-sequestering capacity. To legislate against planting trees in our traffic circles would be equally irrational, especially since studies show that the trees themselves have a slowing effect on traffic. Trees are a very important part of our environment, not just aesthetically but for our physical and mental health and the health of our natural environment. (Sacramento policy: 15.2.3 Traffic calming Devices, page 5, Traffic circles shall be landscaped and/or decoratively hardscaped, including street lights, trees, etc.) 

Most importantly, a policy that treats all traffic circle plantings in the same way, without regard to the sight lines through each one, is terribly wasteful. It seems clear the city should create a volunteer team under the leadership of a Public Works staff person to do an inventory and document the sight lines of each of the traffic circles and to organize caretaking volunteers for each circle.
My own effort found a great range of plantings. In only one did I find that the tree, unpruned, blocked the view. In several, the view across the circle was partially blocked by shrubbery or, as below at Delaware and 10th, by agave cactus which can easily be trimmed back. The two palm trees enhance the area and obviously do not interfere with the sight lines across the circle.
In this time of climate disruption, it is not justifiable to cut down our carbon-storing, climate-enhancing, beautifying, traffic-calming city trees.