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Save the Trees- Seattle

Action Alert

Support a Stronger Tree Protection Ordinance for Seattle

 The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has released a draft tree ordinance that they want the Seattle City Council to pass.  While it has some good points, it unfortunately weakens our current protection of trees and tree groves in Seattle and will result in further decreasing our urban forestry infrastructure that benefits all citizens by reducing storm water runoff, cleaning our air of pollutants, sequestering carbon, providing habitat for wildlife and many other benefits.

DPD’s draft proposal can be seen here:

www.seattle.gov/dpd/planning/trees

The following is a brief evaluation by Save the Trees-Seattle of the pluses and minuses of the DPD proposal. Most of the proposal deals with trees during the development process and needs to be expanded to better protect trees outside development. We need to do better to save our trees.

Some good things in the draft:

1. Adding single family homes and institutions undergoing development to the list of zones that must add street trees.

2. Requiring an online permit to remove trees larger than 24″ diameter breast height (dbh).

3. Implementing a tree removal application fee for exceptional trees to help cover cost and evaluation

4. Removing single family home lots smaller than 5000 sf from not being covered by the current ordinance.

5. Higher credit is given for evergreens saved or planted during development

What is missing from this draft:

1. Protection of tree groves

2. Protection of trees smaller than 24″ dbh, including many trees previously classified as exceptional

3. A permit system for trees smaller than 24″ dbh. Portland Oregon will cover all trees 10”dbh and larger.

4. Extending the permit system for exceptional trees to include public trees

5. Consolidating oversight, regulation and enforcement in a Department without a conflict of interest like DPD has. Trees need an advocate for their protection and Seattle Public Utilities or the Office of Sustainability and the Environment make more sense for overseeing protecting trees in the city

6. Licensing and training for arborists and tree removal companies

7. Posting completed tree removal applications on line and posting of property

8. Requiring disclosure of exceptional trees on property by real estate agents when property is sold

9. Incentives to save trees like utility rebates

10. Replacement of trees removed so there is no net loss of canopy over time, except some during development for not meeting credits

11 Requirements to id all trees on property in development plans.

12. More emphasis on native trees and habitat values in tree plantings and preservation

You can see more extensive detail on these concerns in comments delivered to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission and posted here:

http://www.majorityrules.org/2012/07/seattle-dpds-latest-draft-tree-ordinance-needs-strengthening-part-1.html

http://www.majorityrules.org/2012/07/seattle-dpds-latest-draft-tree-ordinance-needs-strengthening-part-2.html

Trees in Seattle need your help and support to survive.  Only about 14% of the trees in Seattle are larger than 24” dbh. This proposal would allow all trees less than 24” dbh to be cut down in Seattle!

Please send in comments in your own words expressing your concerns. Your voice needs to be heard to help protect Seattle’s trees for future generations.

Comments will be received through Oct 1, 2012. To have maximum effect, besides sending comments to DPD at

Brennon.Staley@Seattle.gov

you should also forward them to the Urban Forestry Commission at

Sandra.Pinto_de_Bader@seattle.gov

and to the Seattle City Council members at

bruce.harrell@seattle.gov

jean.godden@seattle.gov

mike.obrien@seattle.gov

nick.licata@seattle.gov

richard.conlin@seattle.gov

sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov

sally.clark@seattle.gov

tim.burgess@seattle.gov

tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov

and to the Mayor at

mike.mcginn@seattle.gov

Please bcc  stevezemke@msn.com so we can track public comments being sent in.

Join us on facebook by liking our page – “Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest”.

Financial contributions to support our campaign for a stronger tree ordinance are needed.

Make checks out to Save the Trees-Seattle and send them to:

Save the Trees-Seattle, c/o Steve Zemke, 2131 N 132nd St, Seattle, WA 98133

e-mail us at stevezemke@msn.com

 

NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

In a brief decision, King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle recently ruled against the appeal of Save the Trees-Seattle to prevent clear cutting a quarter of a grove of 70 year old, 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and western madrone tress in an uncommon plant habitat at Ingraham High School in North Seattle. This was despite the fact that only a few hundred feet away the Seattle School District had identified in a Master Plan a large open lawn area as a future building site.

The decision clearly says that in Seattle trees have no legal standing. Judge Doyle’s decision in essence says that development of any property in the city trumps tree protection and preservation. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s stated policy is that they are all for protecting trees unless it limits the development potential of a lot. In this instance Judge Doyle is saying it does not even matter if there are alternative locations close by on the site that the building could be moved to or even if habitat is uncommon.

Despite Seattle City law saying that priority should be given to protecting uncommon, unique, or rare habitat, the Judge’s decision ignored a Seattle Hearing Examiner’s decision that the NW Grove is an uncommon plant habitat in the city of Seattle. It is a remnant of a conifer madrone forest in the City of which only 52 acres remain elsewhere. The species diversity present at the Ingraham site, some 14 different tree and shrub species, is comparable to that at the other major site where this plant community exists, namely at Seward Park in South Seattle.

What is disturbing about the decision is that it supports DPD’s tacit authority to ignore City tree protection laws and gives more impetus to DPD’s current proposal to actually remove from current city law, all protections for trees outside development. In any given year only 1% of city property is being developed. That means that 99% of the City’s trees in any given year would have no protection.

DPD’s proposal was reviewed by Mayor McGinn before it was released. It would remove all protection for exceptional trees and for tree groves. It is a death warrant for our city’s trees and will make it impossible to reach our goal of increasing the city’s tree canopy over the next 20 years or so.

The proposed clear cutting of the trees at Ingraham High School is just a continuation of the unofficial policy of the City of Seattle to prioritize development by any means over protection of our urban forest infrastructure. And now DPD wants to formally make it City law to prevent citizens from even questioning the misplaced priorities of the City.

Citizens need to speak out against this senseless slaughter of trees and our urban forest infrastructure without regard for the social, environmental and economic costs of this loss and the loss of what citizens value in living and enjoy in a city with trees and a vibrant urban forest.

Send an e-mail to Mayor McGinn and all 9 members of the Seattle City Council and urge they reject DPD’s proposal and instead work to add additional protections to the interim ordinance passed last year by the City Council.

Councilmembers’ e-mail adresses:

tim.burgess@seattle.gov
sally.clark@seattle.gov

richard.conlin@seattle.gov

sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov

jean.godden@seattle.gov

mike.obrien@seattle.gov

nick.licata@seattle.gov

bruce.harrell@seattle.gov

tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov

Send a letter: Mayor’s Office, Seattle City Hall 7th floor, 600 Fourth Avenue, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749

The Seattle Departmant of Planning and Development (DPD) is proposing new tree regulations that would eliminate current protections for exceptional trees, tree groves and most other trees. The proposal was developed in secret without a public process. 

The draft proposal was prepared in response to last year’s City Council Resolution 31138 . The DPD proposal is inadequate and does not meet the pressing needs of preserving and enhancing Seattle urban forest and trees. It represents a significant step backwards in protecting this valuable infrastructure of our city.

It is important to note that the very first directive in Resolution 31138 in Section 1 is not met in several ways by DPD’s “City of Seattle Proposed Tree Regulations dated July 14, 2010. The resolution states that “The City Council requests that the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) submit legislation by May 2010 to establish a comprehensive set of regulations and incentives to limit the removal of trees and promote the retention and addition of trees within the City of Seattle on both private and public property, including city park land.”

The report does the opposite by proposing the repeal of the interim tree ordinance, removal of protections for exceptional trees and relying only on incentives to protect trees. 

DPD’s proposal is not legislation but only a report. In the introduction it states that “The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is proposing to revise Seattle’s regulations governing trees on private property.” The report completely ignores the public component of protecting the urban forest. If urban forest regulations are to be effective, public and private entities must follow the same regulations.

Resolution 31138 directed DPD to look at “establishing additional protections for all City-designated exceptional trees”. This seems pretty clear, yet DPD’s response is to propose eliminating any protections for exceptional trees. This would represent a major reversal and repudiation of the goals of protecting unique species, old trees and others currently classified as exceptional. This is unacceptable.

Another criticism of the report is that it approaches urban forestry protection only from the sense of trees, not urban forestry. It ignores the ecological component of the interrelationship of plants and animals and the need for habitat protection. The impact of individual tree decisions is never in isolation but affects communities of plants and animals and their ability to survive.

The interim tree ordinance gave protection to groves of trees; yet no mention is made of this in this report. Many species of birds, insects and other animal’s survival depends on the retention of native plant species, including but not limited to “trees”. It is well known that the diversity of plants and animals increases as habitat patch size increases. The proposal removes interim protection for tree groves.

Also the whole definition of canopy analysis is dated ecologically. Canopy needs to be defined in terms of canopy volume. In an aerial photo a 100 year old 120 foot tall Douglas fir could appear to cover the same surface area as a group of 5 or 10 street trees yet the canopy volume would be hugely different.

This report needs to take into consideration these concerns of biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability. Many of these concerns are addressed in a 68 page report by the Montgomery Tree Committee entitled “Urban Tree Conservation: A White Paper on Local Ordinances”

An inherent conflict of interest exists in having DPD develop and oversee urban forest and tree regulations. It represents an internal conflict of interests. DPD’s primary mission is to help people develop their property. As noted in a recent public presentation by a DPD employee, the DPD’s interpretation is that trees can be saved unless they prohibit the development potential of a lot. As such DPD’s mission is clear and trees lose.

Seattle’s urban forest needs an independent advocate for its protection. The most likely candidate is to vest tree regulation and oversight in one city agency, not nine as is currently the situation. The Office of Sustainability and Environment is the most logical choice. The recent city Auditor’s Report in 2009 entitled “Management of City Trees Can be Improved”, concurred with this view when it stated that the City “Unify all City Departments behind a single mission through clear and demonstrated leadership by the Office of Sustainability and the Environment. The City’s current approach to trees lacks top leadership with the authority and accountability to ensure implementation of the Urban Forestry Management Plan.”

Another directive is to look at “establishing a requirement to obtain a permit before removing any tree in any residential, commercial or industrial zone”. Again pretty clear, yet DPD’s response is to oppose this, despite other cities requiring permits before trees can be cut down. Seattle already has a requirement to get a permit to cut down or prune privately planted and maintained trees in the public right of way, like the parking strip in front of one’s home. The permit is administered by SDOT, the Seattle Department of Transportation. The report makes no mention of this.

What is needed is to expand this current tree cutting permit to include all trees on public and private property that are above some minimum diameter. Many cities use a 6 inch diameter. Of course a special case needs to be dealt with in replacement trees that are planted as the result of, e.g., a land use action. Many of these trees will be less than 6 inches in diameter for a number of years.

Permits could be several tiered, with a list of exceptional trees being much more difficult to remove. There is no enforcement now of cutting of exceptional trees because DPD operates with a complaint based system, rather than a permit system. It is a dismal failure. By the time you hear the chainsaw, it is impossible to save exceptional trees or any other trees.

Permits could be applied for on the internet, and posted for at least a week before final approval and for a week afterwards so that the public and the city have a chance to check them out. Atlanta, GA requires a 2 week posting period. For a large tree like a 70 year old Douglas fir, a week or two is a small time indeed. Signs should also be posted, visible to the public in the vicinity of the tree to be cut. Neighbors on adjoining properties should be notified since frequently tree disputes are about whose tree it really is. A way to question or appeal the tree cutting should be set up, requiring at least a second opinion by the city or another arborist.

To eliminate the requirement that property owners know every nuance of the law, tree arborists doing business in the city should apply for a special tree cutting license, be professionally certified and attend a briefing by city officials on our tree laws and regulations. If trees are removed contrary to the law, the city could then go after the arborists with fines, and for repeat offenders or multiple violations, revocation also of their license. Most homeowners are not going to cut down large trees on their property because of damage and liability issues. They will probably hire someone.

One possible incentive system could be patterned after the senior exemption for property owners. The senior exemption is not automatic but property owners have to fill out an application and not exceed certain income levels. A rebate or reduction in water and sewer bills for maintaining trees and forested area could be made available but people would have to apply for them, listing tree species and sizes. This would help to establish the connection between trees and the benefits they provide property and home owners and the city.

Unfortunately the DPD report was prepared in secret without any major public input. It did not represent an open process or even examine many issues brought up in resolution 31138. And it is by no means comprehensive. Besides some of the major concerns we’ve brought up, any urban forestry or “tree” regulation is subject to the details in how the law would actually be written. The devil is in the details and there are very few details in this report.

As an example the DPD should use as a starting guideline an evaluation of any proposed regulation on the level proposed by The International Society of Arboriculture in its 181 page “Guideline for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances.” A smaller and incomplete checklist was also developed by the Georgia Forestry Commission entitled, “Tree Ordinance Development Guideline”.

Both these reports should act as a starting point to discuss the multitude of issues and specific concerns that need to be addressed in the development of any comprehensive urban forest and tree ordinance that both works and is accepted by the public. The current report is incomplete and unacceptable.

Please contact Mayor McGinn and the Seattle City Council to voice your opposition to DPD’s proposal to remove protections for exceptional trees, tree groves and our urban forest.  Urge that they enact strong legislation to protect our urban forest, increase our canopy cover and protect habitat for native plants and animals.

You can contact them at:

mike.mcginn@seattle.gov seattle.gov
richard.conlin@seattle.gov
nick.licata@seattle.gov
tom.rasmussen@seasttle.gov
sally.clark@seattle.gov
tim.burgess@seattle.gov
bruce.harrell@seattle.gov
jean.godden@seattle.gov
sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov
mike.obrien@seattle.gov

also cc the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission at
tracy.morgenstern@seattle.gov

In a bizarre analysis by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, it is proposed that Seattle no longer protect its large and old trees.  This is no joke.  They propose incentives as a better way to protect trees, but provide no clear examples or surveys showing this approach works.  They argue that because the current system doesn’t seem to work for them, that we should quit trying. This is like BP after a week saying they couldn’t stop the oil flowing into the Gulf so they were giving up.

Seattle’s current system doesn’t work largely because DPD doesn’t enforce it.  No permits are required by DPD to cut down trees of any size. Under the current interim ordinance someone can supposedly cut down up to 3 trees a year on their property.  Although they are not supposed to cut down exceptional trees (which are detailed in Director’s Rule 16-2008), unless diseased or a hazard, the only way DPD follows up is if someone files a complaint.  Of course by the time you hear the chainsaw it is too late to stop the tree or trees from being cut down.

This is why Seattle needs to put in place an expanded system to require that people get a permit to cut down any tree over 6 inches. I say expanded because we already have a permit program  for removing or pruning privately maintained street trees in the right of way. It is administrated by the Seattle Department of Transportation  (SDOT). Other cities also require permits before trees can be cut down.

The whole idea is to be sure that trees are not removed unnecessarily, that the tree is not really on someone else’s property and that it is not an exceptional tree. An expanded permit system could be required for removal of any tree 6 inches in diameter or larger by private property owners and by the city. Citizens need to know that the city has to follow the same rules as they do. The current DPD proposal only refers to private property.

Permits could be several tiered, with exceptional trees being harder to cut down because of increased fees and more requirements to get approval.  Hazardous or diseased trees would be able to be removed with minimal or no restrictions.

Permits could be applied for on the Internet and posted for a minimum of 1 week before being approved. Physical posting on the property and visible to the public would be required for 1 week before and 1 week after cutting.

Arborists working in the city would be required to certified by a professional group and register with the city.  They would be required to attend a briefing on the city’s tree regulations. If exceptional trees are cut down without approval, arborists would be fined and or lose their license to do business in the city.  It is easier to inform several hundred arborists of our tree and urban forestry regulations than it is to try to inform all the citizens.  Most large trees in the city require an arborist to cut in most cases, few homeowners are skilled enough or able to cut large trees in the city without facing potential damage and liability issues.

DPD’s analysis is flawed because it emphasizes trees as a burden rather than as a part of Seattle’s infrastructure. Our urban forest and its trees and vegetation  reduce storm water runoff, clean the air, reduce noise pollution, provide habitat for birds, insects and other animals, provide aesthetics as a green space and contribute to our quality of life in the city.

We can have trees and development; it is not an either/or situation.  We need to protect our green infrastructure.  Most of Seattle’s canopy increase is coming from increased planting of street trees.  We are losing the large old trees with their much larger canopy volume and resultant benefits to city inhabitants.  DPD proposal is a major step backward. Let the Seattle City Council and the Mayor know that you oppose the current proposal and that they need to put emphasis on retaining our trees.  They represent the green legacy that we need to protect and pass on to future generations living in the Emerald City.

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission is reviewing our tree protection ordinance and will be recommending chages needed to help increase our urban forest canopy to meet the 30% canopy cover adopted by the city. We are currently at about 23% canopy cover but are losing trees in our park areas due to invasive species like blackberry and ivy.  The biggest potential new tree cover is private property.  The city has actually mapped out potential areas for canopy growth. But a new ordinance and plan is necessary to effectively implement a policy to increase our tree canopy.

Here are links to some articles relevant to developing and strengthening our urban forest and tree protection laws that I found helpful:

Urban Tree Conservation: A White Paper on Local Ordinances
Sept 2007, Montgomery Tree Committee. 68 pages

This paper deals with”conservation of urban forests on private land” and is one of the best overviews I have found. It discusses and compares many different ordinances and approaches it from a holistic viewpoint, looking not just at trees but also biodiversity and ecosystem concerns.

Tree Ordinance Development Guidebook
Sept 2005 by the Georgia Forestry Commission, Urban and Community Forestry Program. 25 pages

This Guidebook is not very long but it has a good overview, including a Tree Board/Tree Ordinance Evaluation, and a Resource List.

Guideline for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances
International Society of Arboriculture, Oct 2001. 181 pages a real compendium of information on tree ordinance issues

October 2010 update:

several other links also provide guidance in developing a tree ordinance.

http://www.scenic.org/tree/model_ordinance -
Scenic America – outlines key elements of a model tree protection ordinance

http://conservationtools.org/tools/general/show/37
Tree Ordinance – ConservationTools.org – a good 7 page overview

A new report released by Seattle Urban Nature finds that conifer forests are a vanishing resource in the Puget Sound region. Conifer trees are not regenerating in sufficient numbers to perpetuate healthy forests into the future. Instead, these forests are becoming dominated by English holly, sweet cherry, English ivy and other invasive species that are suppressing the growth of native plants. With less than 300 acres of conifer forests remaining on the 8000 acres of public lands within the City of Seattle, these forests urgently need our care and protection.

Seattle Urban Nature, a science focused non-profit organization dedicated to healthy urban forests, released this new report on the “State of Seattle’s Conifer Forests” as part of SUN’s on-going Seattle Citywide Habitat Assessment (CHA). This report provides a comprehensive independent analysis of the existing condition of conifer forested habitat in Seattle’s parks and open spaces, and can be applicable to other cities in Puget Sound region.

Less than 200 years ago, majestic conifer forests dominated the landscape of the Puget Sound region. As our region has grown in the past 100 years, Seattle’s forests have declined due to impacts from activities such as logging and urbanization. Conifer trees can live for more than a thousand years and are iconic symbols of the Pacific Northwest. Conifer forests provide people with important ecosystem services year-round. They improve our water and air quality, stabilize soils, slow and absorb storm-water and rain water, sequester large amounts of carbon, and provide beautiful places for urban residents to enjoy. They also provide vital habitat for native wildlife and birds.

According to Mark Mead, Senior Urban Forester with Seattle Parks, “The remaining coniferous forests of Seattle are under threat from invasive species and lack of direct action over the past 100 years. We (parks) appreciate SUN’s efforts to research this problem and provide more direct, applicable science to this effort. Through the Green Seattle Partnership (GSP), the City of Seattle is partnering with citizens and major non-profit organizations to take on the challenge of restoring over 2500 acres of forested areas to near native-like conditions in Seattle’s park lands. The GSP is focusing on the re-establishment of the native coniferous forests of the city.”

Unless we begin to actively manage these forests to reduce the impact of habitat loss, invasive species and other urban pressures, we stand to lose an incredibly valuable cultural and ecological resource. Seattle’s remaining conifer forests are in decline and places like Lincoln Park, Seward Park and Schmitz Park will no longer be the treasures that they are today. It’s up to the community at large to reverse these trends, and efforts like the GSP are helping. This information will help city managers, forest stewards and the general public to better understand our urban forests and support a sustained effort to restore and preserve these locally rare habitats.

Background and Methodology

In 2005, SUN launched a citywide forest monitoring program known as the Citywide Habitat Assessment (CHA) to monitor declines or improvements in the state of Seattle urban forests. This assessment builds on data collected during SUN’s 1999-2000 Seattle Public Lands Habitat Survey, which provided vegetation information for 8,000 acres of public lands throughout Seattle. Two previous reports from this effort have been published: Conifer/Deciduous Mixed Forests in Seattle, and The State of Seattle’s Madrone Forests, which are available on our website. Three additional habitat types, riparian, wetland and deciduous forests, still remain to be surveyed.

During 2008, SUN staff established 16 permanent monitoring plots in conifer forests throughout Seattle. These 1/10th acre plots were randomly chosen from all conifer forests on public lands identified during SUN’s 1999-2000 Seattle Public Lands Habitat Survey. Information gathered on the permanent plots included the species, diameter, height and density for all trees, including all non-native, invasive, tree-like shrubs such as English holly (Ilex aquifolium) and cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus). In addition, percent cover data for shrubs, vines and herbaceous species were recorded. Collected data were analyzed to gain an understanding of forest structure and composition as well as to identify threats to the health of these urban forests.

Funding for this project came from the Washington Department of Natural Resources Community Forestry Grant, the Bullitt Foundation, and individual donors.

Note: The above is copied from a press release by Sharon London of Seattle Urban Nature and is posted with their permission here to help publicize their efforts. I saw no reason to try to rewrite what they put together so well. They are doing a tremendous service to Seattle by making this information available to the public. Their efforts deserve our attention and support. Steve Zemke

Clearcut, massacre, slaughter, call it what you want, Saturday while I was driving down 5th Ave NE toward Northgate I suddenly came across the above scenes at 123rd NE and 5th Ave NE.

The pictures tell a story in one sense but it is also a part of a larger story that is re-occurring too often in Seattle. It’s not one we should see in Seattle in this day and age. Yet the remaining groves of trees in Seattle are threatened and disappearing under the bulldozer and chainsaw just like in the pictures above.The west tree grove at Ingraham High School is only on a temporary stay of execution as the Seattle School District has reapplied for its permits to build the same identical building as before in the exact same location. The open lawn area on the North side of the school, among other locations on the largest public high school campus in Seattle, could easily accommodate the new addition without any problem. But the Seattle School Board doesn’t get it and doesn’t care. They have forgotten that they serve at the pleasure of the voters and most voters want to save trees, especially when viable alternatives exist.

Waldo Woods in the Maple Leaf area is also facing the chain saw as proponents for saving the area recently lost their appeal before a Seattle Hearing Examiner. Faced with the only possibility being going to Superior Court, Waldo Woods supporters face the possibility of having to post a huge bond of hundreds of thousands of dollars, which even if they could raise, they would lose if they lose an appeal in Superior Court.

And now the mowing down of a greenbelt area in the Pinehurst Community. One lot cleared and 4 more to go. The 5th Ave NE lot appears to have been cut down illegally. After a Sunday press conference by Save the Trees – Seattle and checking with the City, it turns out that the owner never received approval of his building permit for a single family home or permission to log the area. A cease and desist order has been issued to the owner but the trees are gone.

As Seattle’s tree canopy and green habitat continues to diminish, tree by tree and grove by grove, Seattle becomes less and less an Emerald City. So where is the city in all this. Seattle has a terribly weak ordinance pertaining to protecting trees.

It’s main thrust has been trying to save “exceptional trees” but this definition is so restrictive that few trees get saved. And tree groves currently have no protection because the Seattle department of Planning and Development under Greg Nickels does not consider them as valuable habitat areas to be saved.

The Seattle City Council has directed the Director to re-interpret the Director’s Rule to follow what they say the original intent was – to save not just single trees but also groves of trees because of their habitat value.

The Seattle City Council is currently considering an ordinance to declare a moratorium on cutting down tree groves on vacant lots until a revision of Seattle’s Tree Ordinance can take place. Such a revision must include a more enlightened vision of saving more of Seattle’s threatened green heritage because Seattle’s current tree policies are not saving tree groves.

When you think about it, the proposed Seattle Viaduct Governor Gregoire wants is a Mega-Luxury Project using 1950′s traffic solutions for the 21st century. The Viaduct is gross misrepresentation of the actual needs for that transportation corridor and shows no innovation in dealing with reducing traffic flows and reducing fuel consumption and reducing CO2 contributing to global warming.

A Seattle Dept of Transportation Map shows that the average figure for traffic going through the Battery Street Tunnel is 60,000 cars per day. The traffic on the South part of the Viaduct by Spokane Street is also only 60,000. These are two constrictor points.

In the center of the Viaduct a figure of 110,000 vehicles is usually given. The question is how much of this figure is a short on and off travel figure or a pass through that could go elsewhere. What is the traffic flow of these 50,000 vehicles?

Even using these numbers to support rebuilding a Luxury viaduct are misleading. They are actually the wrong numbers to look at.

The important question to ask is, what is the hourly traffic each hour during the day using the viaduct? What time is the highest per hour capacity now and what are the alternatives that might lower that peak capacity travel? How many park and rides and buses could we fund with $2 to $3 billion dollars to reduce that peak capacity?

We obviously don’t need a 110,000 capacity corridor for 24 hours, 7 days a week. For most times a lesser capacity option would work. That is unless our goal is to increase traffic flow through this corridor with more air pollution and noise.

So then what is this huge luxury viaduct being built for – for maybe 20 peak hours of travel – 2 morning and 2 evening rush hour traffic flows during the weekdays? Obviously Saturday and Sunday traffic flows are different. Saturday and Sunday traffic wouldn’t warrant such a large capacity. And traffic flows in the night are not much.

Building a 110,000 vehicle/day capacity is like buying a huge truck because maybe once a month you need to haul something. Why not buy a small fuel efficient car for most of your travel and rent a truck those few times you need to haul something? Its the same with the traffic corridor in question, why not built it for smaller capacity that meets 90% of the travel needs? And look for solutions to address the remaining 10%.

For those few hours of peak capacity, how about increased bus traffic – maybe even free bus passes from new park and ride lots north and south of the viaduct? You can give out lots of free bus passes for a billion dollars, and reduce traffic noise and congestion and cut air pollution.

It’s what happens now with special buses to sports events. What’s so different about having “special buses” to zip people to work downtown who now use the viaduct? I know this is a pretty radical idea. Since trips to work are round trips 10,000 people using the bus means 20,000 fewer car trips. 50 people in a bus means 50 fewer cars at the same time. How about some car pooling.

Another way to check the true need for the viaduct capacity is to start charging tolls and then see how many people still use the corridor. Charge car pools or van pools less or let them pass through free. Tolls have been mentioned as one way to help pay for transportation infrastructure and what better way to see how many would pay a toll to use the Viaduct corridor than to start now. The initial toll could be used to build a fund to tear down the viaduct.

Seems to me to be a legitimate way to use the tolls. And the concept of user pay is fair. If you don’t use it, why should you pay for it?

We’re going to have to tear the viaduct down anyway so why not do it now. Then see how many people clamor to rebuild it. You might be surprised how many would look to different solutions than those proposed now. Too bad we can’t plan for an earthquake at 3 AM sometime soon to speed up the tear down process.

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