‘Save Our Street’ Hosts Education Session With Arborists

Two arborists retained by the Save Our Street organization held a presentation on Sunday afternoon at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul to discuss trees in urban environments and the possible impacts of construction projects.

The crowd of about 100 people seemed to expect to learn that the Summit Avenue Regional Trail, which would add a protected bike trail to the historic avenue, would be a great risk to trees. But the arborists — Chad Giblin and Manuel Jordán — did not provide assessments or address specifics of Summit Avenue.

Instead, the arborists referred to themselves as “educators” and noted, accurately, that no final city plan has been released. They explained standard considerations that the St. Paul Forestry Department will follow, including critical root zones and soil compaction, as it creates a road reconstruction plan.

“Life for trees in cities is hard,” said Giblin, owner of Trees & Me LLC, which provides consulting, tree care and training. “They’re not set up to grow in concrete and asphalt. The best chance for positive engagement is while construction is being planned.”

Attendees also inquired about other tree health topics, including how well the city has handled emerald ash borer and whether a decrease in motorized car traffic could improve life for the existing trees.

The city has emphasized from the beginning of the Summit Avenue project that it is placing a “high priority on maintaining greenspace and trees corridor-wide.” Gary Todd, chair of Save Our Street and moderator of the event, wants data to back that up. “We need something more than a verbal commitment from the city about their intention to preserve trees,” he told the group on Sunday.

But the city is going through its standard process. “The master plan sets a high-level vision,” said city project manager Mary Norton. Once the master plan is approved, then the city can begin a more detailed analysis, she explained. “During design and engineering, specific existing conditions are surveyed, and specific trees are evaluated between project staff and City Forestry,” said Norton. “This helps determine the type of tree protections needed in construction documents for tree preservation.”

Trees vs. Bikes?

The meeting room on Sunday included some skeptics who don’t trust the city to prioritize tree health. Attendees cited the trees removed as part of an ongoing project on Cleveland Avenue (that project is under Ramsey County’s jurisdiction, not the City of St. Paul) and issues with new boulevard tree plantings faring poorly in the neighborhood. The meeting agenda prominently featured a quote from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax: “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. / Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”

St. Paul has a thriving tree canopy, due largely to the city’s efforts. Most of the character-defining trees of Summit Avenue were planted and are now maintained by the city. “City of St. Paul forestry department staff — they’re doing amazing work,“ said Giblin. “They’re interested in science-based and evidence-based approaches to tree care and preservation. They’re speaking for the trees.“

An overview of trees on Summit Avenue (photo courtesy of Engage Saint Paul)

One local resident expressed concern that the debate was being reduced to “trees vs. bikes.”

“I think there are numerous ways to increase safety on Summit and promote sustainable transportation methods while preserving the trees and Summit’s historical presence,” said Kelsey Dahlager, who lives a few blocks north of Summit in a one-car family and frequently bikes around the city with her two toddlers.

Another man who challenged the tone and direction of the meeting said later that he attended “to learn what the so-called SOS group hoped to accomplish” and was frustrated by how much emphasis has been placed on the bike trail when the necessary road reconstruction, already scheduled to take place with sewer and water main repairs, could be the primary strain on the trees.

The city is expecting to present a singular, corridor-wide master plan for Summit Avenue at the end of October. That plan will be open to additional public input before reaching the City Council for a vote. Meanwhile, members of the public are invited to post comments on the city’s engagement website for the project.

Streets.mn managing editor Amy Gage contributed to this report.

Ben Swanson-Hysell

About Ben Swanson-Hysell

Ben lives in St. Paul with his wife and two kids. He is a member of the Union Park District Council Transportation Committee. Professionally, he works as a Data/Business Analyst.

10 thoughts on “‘Save Our Street’ Hosts Education Session With Arborists

  1. Roger Meyer

    I’m new to the Save Our Street convo, but after reading the City’s project website and the Save Our Street website, I sent the following email to Save Our Street and haven’t heard back:

    Hey –

    I travel Summit Avenue regularly in my car and on my bike and noticed all the signs, so I went to the city’s website and your website and I can’t figure out two things that maybe you can help me with:

    Under what scenario being proposed, and where along the redesign route, will there be trees removed?
    Under what scenario being proposed, and where along the redesign route, is parking regularly above 50% utilized so that removing some parking will have a significant impact on parking availability?

    Let me know what you can.

    Thank you!

    1. Mark Gilbert (renter on Summit)

      Hi Roger. I’ll answer your question about parking. I’m a renter on Summit, near Dale Street. I can tell you first hand that parking from Milton all the way to Western Avenue is parked well above 50%, often more like 80-90%.

      Blocks in question (west to east): Milton, Victoria, Avon (north side of Avon-Grotto block is often low usage, due the big church, but the south side is parked up), Grotto, St Albans, Dale, Kent/Oakland, MacKubin/Lawton, Arundel/Summit Ct, Ramsey Hill, Western. That’s over a mile. There’s a lot of rental property, a lot of unique stuff — Hamline Mitchell law school, Victoria Crossings & Grand Ave overflow parking, University Club. The side streets are parked up too, with a three of them made into one ways to provide extra parking and others with one-side parking prohibitions, to keep the driving lane wider. When we get snow emergencies in winter, it’s near impossible now to find a place to move your car. I looked at the parking study by the city and they showed parking spaces in a bus layover and counted parking spaces where there are driveways. It was a joke to anyone who lives in this area.

      There’s an answer below about the trees. The folks at SOS have gotten the city to step back from cutting deep into the boulevard, so I appreciate their efforts keeping the focus on protecting the trees. I also appreciate that they actually care about renters like me. If the parking is prohibited on one side, we will lose more than half of the on-street parking. Several blocks lack alleys and most apartments don’t have garages or parking lots. I moved here in part for the bike lanes, because I do bike in good weather (guess where my truck is when I’m on my bike? park don street!). But I will have to move if I can’t park on the street a reasonable distance from my house.

  2. Tom Quinn

    Thirty-five years ago Saint Paul’s streets had a beautiful canopy of elm trees which was wiped out by Dutch Elm disease. I remember at the time that the City Arborist vowed that this would never happen again, that they would never again have a monoculture and that every block would have a different variety of tree.

    Now, thirty-five years later, history is repeating itself with the monoculture of ash trees and the City Arborists are once again giving us reassurances.

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Thanks for writing this up. It sure seems to me like the SOS group is against any form of street reconstruction? The street is very old and needs to be re-built: that’s a fact. Once we agree on that, we can have a reasonable conversation about how to redesign it. That’s all the city seems to be doing IMO.

  4. Gary R. Todd

    • Our goals for the presentation by the arborists were:
    o to continue to involve stakeholders and
    o to get accurate information out, into the discussion, from a neutral, expert source about how road construction without any comprehensive tree preservation efforts will put the boulevard trees at risk.
    • At the beginning of SOS’ effort, the initial City’s plans included options that cut into boulevards by up to 4 feet. These options had little or no consideration of the impact to trees. They would clearly have resulted in the loss of many trees on the boulevard. The city has since moved away from these options
    • The arborist’s presentation demonstrated the need for comprehensive, implemented and enforced tree preservation requirements to avoid impact to trees. The priority of tree preservation decreases as the responsibility passes from City Forestry to City planners to contractors and on to subcontractors. The lack of enforcement of these requirements will put more trees at risk than would normally be impacted by road reconstruction. The City has not demonstrated any specific plans to employ this level of tree preservation. Thus, the ongoing concern from SOS that trees on treasured Summit Avenue will be put at risk.
    • In addition to the risk to trees presented by planned road construction without any enforced tree preservation techniques, the regrading of boulevards required to incorporate changed elevations for the current two-way off-street bike trail plans would damage small roots and poses additional risk to trees.
    • The city’s timeline is also of concern. Their master plan, now targeted for the end of October, has been repeatedly delayed. The schedule showing a City Council vote by the end of the year or early next year does not provide sufficient time to evaluate the plan in detail.
    • Any change to Summit Avenue, because of its value to the city of St. Paul and the state, deserves a fully vetted plan. Being that Summit Avenue lies within designated historic preservation districts, any changes should (1) follow the city ordinances* governing infrastructure in these districts and (2) have the same scrutiny and standards applied to any historic district property owner’s planned changes to the exteriors of their structures, which often at higher costs are required in order to preserve the historic character of the district.

    Part II Title IX Article II Division 2 Sec. 74.37 New Construction (f) Public Infrastructure
    Part II Title IX Article III Division 2 Sec. 74.65 New Construction (g) Public Infrastructure (1)

    1. Joe

      “any changes should (1) follow the city ordinances* governing infrastructure in these districts and (2) have the same scrutiny and standards applied to any historic district property owner’s planned changes to the exteriors of their structures, which often at higher costs are required in order to preserve the historic character of the district”

      The city’s ordinances already include accommodations for being a historic district, none of which are in any way being violated by the city’s proposals. If you would like a different standard applied to the street outside your house, feel free to lobby the city council to change the ordinances, rather than stretch maintaining “character” of city infrastructure to include “a fully fleshed out city plan to micromanage road construction workers so that there is no risk of damage to small roots of publicly owned trees.”

  5. Paul Nelson

    OK, so there is still a little bit of disinformation that needs to be addressed, specifically the incorrect claim of impact on trees and roots, and the alignment of the cycleways space in the form of a separate bicycle road, being incorrectly described as taking up additional space within the right-of-way. of Summit. I will reference the cross section of the various street designs current and proposed, illustrated by Andy Singers article on Streets MN 24 JUN 22: https://streets.mn/2022/09/14/save-our-street-is-a-disinformation-campaign/ . Lets be very clear. The change of alignment of the cycle way space from the current form of a bike lane in the street, positioned between the park lane space and the motor vehicle traffic lane space, to a separate bicycle road by exchanging the park lane space with the cycle way space, does not “cut in to the boulevard up to four feet.” The change of the street design actually narrows the current curb to curb street space from 28.5 feet to 19 feet West of Lexington, and from 48 feet to 38 feet east of Lexington. What this means is that the boulevard space is being widened and the alignment of the separate bicycle road would be on the grade of the boulevard within most of the same position where the parking space was before the change. This outcome actually provides more space for tree roots, and does not take out most all of the trees. The exception, as described to me last Wednesday at the SPBC meeting, are possibly three trees which are currently planted right up to the edge of the current curb, and will need to be removed anyway no matter what we do with the street rebuild. I honestly can not imagine any other possible proposal of cutting additional space from the boulevard prior to my viewing of the Zoom Meeting June 4th. That makes no sense.

    Additionally, parking is, or very much should be, a non issue. All of us who live in this city should have easy off street parking for our motor vehicles. We should be moving toward a system of no parking of cars at all on our streets between 1 AM and 6 AM. This is what Oak Park IL had as a system when I lived there in 1974. It helped police work during the late night hours. Cars parked on our streets look terrible. Lets get the parked cars off of our streets. Thank you.

  6. Paul Nelson

    Hello Gary R. Todd: I have read your bullet outline above about tree preservation and concern for impact to trees. Have you read my written response above? Do you realize that your position and concerns have almost no application to the rebuild of Summit Ave at all? In other words. You have no real basis in fact to support your position. And it should be noted that trees can be replanted, if any need to be removed. The overall priority here is to make a street system as safe and functional for everyone who uses the street, better than what is currently in place, and up to date with current best practices of safe roadway and street design.

  7. Paul Nelson

    Hello Mark Gilbert: I have read your statement above about parking on Summit and I think what you describe as conditions of parking is roughly and vaguely incorrect. A closer study of what is actually happening might be helpful, but I do not see what you describe. Here is the thing, you do not actually pay as a vehicle owner for your parking place on the city street. In this city we all are paying for that space. Perhaps if you feel there is not convenient space on the street to park your car, you could rent a garage. There should be adequate room for parking if we go down to one lane for parking on one side of the street on Summit, east of Lexington.

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