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DC's tree-lovers are partners, not pests

Trees are one of the most cherished parts of the streetscape for many homeowners. So when a crew sporting chainsaws suddenly shows up on your street unannounced and refuses to answer any questions, it's more than little worrisome.

Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration, which manages tree pruning, engages in no regular communication with residents about the work they're going to do. Their tree crews often try their best to ignore, often quite rudely, any homeowners asking questions.

If the crews always did the right thing, this might be merely an annoyance, but they don't. Arborists and the crews have a lot of discretion and sometimes make choices which significantly diminish the quality of a streetscape for residents. And when a crew cuts off a tree limb or removes a tree, there's no way to get it back.

Keeping DC's many trees alive, especially with small tree boxes, periodic utility work, the occasional drought, and assault from fungus, is a tough job. And regular maintenance and pruning is indeed important.

People I know and trust at DDOT tell me that they consider John Thomas, head of the Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) to be one of the best division heads in the agency. But for the typical homeowner, or even the homeowner who's very involved in civic affairs like myself, we don't get to see the excellent side of UFA.

Instead, an arborist comes by each block at some point, looks at the trees, and makes a decision that some need to be pruned. A work order goes into a system which homeowners probably won't know anything about, and No Parking signs go up which don't say anything about tree pruning.

Then, suddenly, some guys show up with chainsaws and start cutting off pieces of trees. If a homeowner isn't home, they'll come back and find potentially very unwelcome gaps in the trees; if a homeowner is around and tries to talk to the tree crew, they'll rudely refuse and try to push the pesky questioner out of the way.

Strangely pruned tree in Logan Circle. Photo by the author.

Some tree pruning just involves taking away a few dead branches, but at least some DDOT arborists and tree crews go much farther. The last time a crew was on my block, for instance, they cut every branch of a tree within 8 feet of a house, which creates odd-looking one-sided trees like the one above in Logan Circle. I know a homeowner who lives in that area, and they were decidedly unhappy upon returning home one day to find half of this tree suddenly lopped off.

Other homeowners have found numerous trees completely removed without warning, even when experts can disagree about whether the tree is a hazard or not. Sometimes trees do need to go, no matter how beloved. But it's not unreasonable for homeowners to want some warning to prepare themselves and get educated on the necessity first.

A crew from "Adirondack Tree Experts," on contract to DDOT, showed up this yesterday on my block. I wanted to better understand what they were doing, but when I went out to speak to them, they pointedly ignored me until I stood too close to the area they were working. Then, they loudly insisted I move to avoid falling branches, but still refused to talk to me, only saying they were "under contract."

I made a bunch of calls and sent some concerned tweets, after which DDOT finally sent an arborist who spoke to me. I appreciated this gesture, but would DDOT do that for everyone who doesn't have a well-known blog? Should they? It shouldn't take such measures to get information about tree pruning, and informing homeowners shouldn't require a personal visit by an arborist every time.

8 feet from each house is DDOT's "standard" for tree pruning. The arborist who came out yesterday said that just because that's the standard, they don't necessarily take off all branches to 8 feet. He doesn't, he said, but that depends on the arborist. Apparently whichever arborist or tree crew handled the tree above has a different view. The same goes for the last pruning on my block.

In this case, it appears Adirondack was only removing branches that actually had some disease. Doing that keeps the tree alive, because the disease can spread to the main trunk of the tree if not nipped in the bud. A simple assurance from the tree crew that they were just going to remove a few branches, not truncate half the tree because of the 8-foot "standard," would have meant a lot.

Sure, it's easier for the arborists and the contractors not to talk to any homeowners. Most homeowners don't understand trees and probably want to ask the contractor to do the wrong thing. But that doesn't mean chainsawing people's trees without giving them any opportunity for involvement is the right policy.

UFA does have an online spreadsheet listing upcoming work orders, except in Wards 2 (my ward) and 6, where it lists no work orders and has a last updated date from June.

It would be great if DDOT could set up an online system which lets people subscribe to alerts about tree actions on their block. Naturally, that would require some money, and DC has cut budgets, not expanded them.

UFA could also create a nice booklet explaining the issues around trees, and how to spot the signs of disease. The crews could hand those booklets out. More importantly, they could bring flyers explaining what is on the work order, what's not and why the work needs to be done, or direct curious residents to a better Web site that also shows the details that the arborists can see.

After all, some knowledgeable arborist at UFA has synthesized data and observations, and ordered the work to be done. Chances are they had good reasons in doing so. Why not share those reasons openly with citizens?

Most of all, the crews shouldn't treat residents who want to make sure their trees remain healthy, full and strong as annoyances. Residents who care about the trees are an asset to DC, not an obstacle. UFA could enlist them to spot problems, keep trees watered, or keep an eye out for work crews from utilities who inadvertently take actions which can damage the trees.

There's already Canopy Keepers, which enlists residents to water young trees in their area. Unfortunately, that requires printing out and mailing or scanning a paper form. But it's a start.

The District's tree canopy is one of its greatest treasures. In order to maintain and expand our city's tree coverage, we need to find ways to make residents active partners of UFA.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Sorry about your tree. However, this is one anecdote masquerading as data. Here's another anecdote: DDOT's system for responding to resident concerns about trees in the public space is a system that works very well!

I have a very sick tree, 40 feet tall, completely hollowed out by disease, directly in front of my house. It has been in decline for a 5 years now, and every other year or so, we have requested sick limbs be removed before they fall, and each time (3 times in all over 5 years), DC crews came out and removed what was dying to promote the health of the rest of the tree, promptly.

We have worked with the wonderful volunteer tree lady of Capitol Hill, Margaret Vachon, and the great Casey tree people, to monitor this old tree's decline, and finally reported it to the authorities for final removal on DC's website in October. Within a few days, using the website, we could see that Mr. Chapman had read our request for tree removal and assigned a work order for its removal "ASAP," as he wrote.

We will be sad to see this old tree go (but not as sad as the generations of birds and squirrels who have used the hollowed-out tree as a condominium), but we take comfort from the fact that we had requested 8 new trees for this block on last April, the District promptly met our request by planting 8 great-looking black gum trees last Spring. Throughout the summer, residents on the block kept the trees watered, Casey and Mrs. Vachon visited from time to time to check on their progress, and the DC Summer Youth Jobs program kids installed and maintained tree-watering tubs at the base of each tree to supplement the efforts of neighbors during the hottest months. The baby trees look healthy and seem to be prospering.

I think you are barking up the wrong tree here. I've used the system, and I've found it works very well, far beyond my expectations. And in this case, yes, DDOT *did* do all that for little old me, someone who does *not* have a "well-known blog."

by Trulee Pist on Dec 1, 2011 11:56 am • linkreport

Maybe DDOT uses off-duty WMATA station attendants to trim trees. That would explain the crew reception you got.

by CityBeautiful21 on Dec 1, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

Not to drag this offtopic, but you talk a lot about homeowners in this thread. Renters have rights too.

by andrew on Dec 1, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

Great post David! You're correct, while the trees may not technically belong to the adjoining homeowners, the District depends on us to (at a minimum) water them and we deserve (at a minimum) to be kept informed on any actions that Urban Forestry is planning for them.

by Lance on Dec 1, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

Here's a tip: It's always a good idea not to annoy people who use power tools doing dangerous jobs.

by mtp on Dec 1, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

@andrew, yes my bad experience was 20 years ago and I was a renter. Even though it was so long ago, before Tony Williams, my experience was very similar to Davids.

I had lovingly planted and for 3 months nurtured a flower bed in a treebox in front of the house I rented. One morning I heard a terrible noise and went out to find a crew removing the small tree stump in the middle of the box and destroying my beautiful, thriving and cared-for flowers.

If I had known they were coming to remove the stump I could have removed the flowers myself and either transplanted them to another spot or re-planted them after the stump work was done, thus saving my investment of time, money and emotions.

The crew did their best to ignore me but I was pretty hard to ignore- a young woman in pajamas on the sidewalk raging with anger at the needless destruction of her beloved flower garden.

The whole thing could have been easily prevented if I'd just been notified even one half hour in advance.

by Tina on Dec 1, 2011 12:21 pm • linkreport

He ywhile we're on the subject of pruning trees, can we get these arborist guys to consider tall people?

I'm 6'5", and walking down any street in the residential parts of DC is like a game of Don't-Get-Poked-In-The-Eye because they only trim branches to like a 6' clearance.

I get that most people didn't drink enough milk or something and are now 5'6" but c'mon I pay taxes too! I'd glady go about trimming the branches myself if I weren't certain I'd cause multiple Yuppie aneurysms

by Matthew on Dec 1, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

Urban tree work is kind of like suburban deer population control. People get really emotionally attached to positions that are actually contrary to the interests they profess to be protecting. Trees need pruning and occasional removal and, barring their being healthy, specimen trees, it's not really anything to get excited about. New trees will generally replace them.

by Crickey7 on Dec 1, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport


I'm 6'4", and I know what you're talking about, but I didn't know the true pain of untrimmed low branches until I moved to West Philadelphia. I'm genuinely tempted to start carrying pruners and just lop my way down the sidewalk. I don't think the yuppie aneurysm risk is nearly as severe...

by Lucre on Dec 1, 2011 1:10 pm • linkreport

@andrew, you might be oversensitive or imagining things. In my comment, I speak about "residents," not homeowners. Renters are residents, too!

by Trulee Pist on Dec 1, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

@crickey7-Yes, People get really emotionally attached to living things they've cared for, protected, provided for (watered/fed), gotten to know as individuals (seen grow) and appreciate the beauty of. Stupid humans. So impractical.

by Tina on Dec 1, 2011 2:19 pm • linkreport

I get your point, but in my experience UFA does a pretty good job. They certainly do an excellent job of regularly pruning the large and magnificent American linden directly in front of our house. I appreciate the importance of government communicating with the public. But I'm not sure I need them to directly consult me every time they prune the tree in front of our house. Indeed, I'm not really sure what advice I could give them since I know nothing about the proper care and pruning of mature American lindens and my aesthetic preference is probably not what is best for the health of the tree. I remember a few years back there was outrage on our community listserve when UFA cut down an old maple. UFA responded (quickly!)with a very thorough explanation of how sick the tree was and how urgently it needed to be cut down. I suppose it would have been nice if UFA had let everyone living within 1/4-mile of the maple know that they planned to cut it down, but that hardly seems like an efficient use of government resources. Especially since whatever citizen input they would have received, the end result would have been the same. The tree was sick and dying and needed to be cut down. (For those wondering -- UFA replaced the maple.)

by rg on Dec 1, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

@rg-I don't think DA is advocating "citizen input" on the decisions or scheduling of tree work -just prior notification as a courtesy, perhaps in some cases with a short 2 sentence lay explanation of the needed work. In fact he even suggests explanation-concurrent-with-work (a flyer/ information brochure crews can hand out on the spot) would be acceptable.

In my case all I needed was a knock on the door a half hour before they started to give me a chance to save my garden. It was obvious to the crew they were destroying a garden someone had spent a lot of time on.

Why couldn't UFA have given me the courtesy to tell me via a flyer in the door the day or week before, or on the very day the arborist was on the street making observations? Why couldn't UFA have instructed the crew to knock on the damn door before the stump removal to give the resident a chance to save the flower garden planted in the tree box?

Residents are expected to care for tree boxes/the strip of land between the sidewalk and street. This type of disregard for residents' beautification efforts is in conflict with that expectation.

by Tina on Dec 1, 2011 3:03 pm • linkreport


That's a lot of doors to knock on, and frankly I don't think that kind of notice is (or should be) required. That's a lot of time and cost you're talking about.

More passive notice, like strapping a sign on the tree, should be perfectly fine.

by Alex B. on Dec 1, 2011 3:19 pm • linkreport

@Alex B. -ok- a sign strapped to the tree or stuck on a stake next to the stump. Anything. That would have been adequate. I was given absoultely zero notice. When I tried to talk to the work crew they were rude and dismissive, just as DA reports. That fueled my anger at the time and resentment.

I don't think DA is suggesting anyting unreasonable. Obviously I don't think I am either. I would have been very grateful for a sign strapped to a nearby tree/or stuck into the ground next to the stump prior to the work.

by Tina on Dec 1, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

@Trulee Pist think you are barking up the wrong tree here. I've used the system, and I've found it works very well, far beyond my expectations.

Well ... maybe for you ... But not for us taxpayers ...

It has been in decline for a 5 years now, and every other year or so, we have requested sick limbs be removed before they fall, and each time (3 times in all over 5 years), DC crews came out and removed what was dying to promote the health of the rest of the tree, promptly.

We need to be kept informed and kept advised and asked our opinions ... BUT these trees are public property sitting on public property, paid for and cared for (on the whole) with taxpayer dollars.

Urban Forestry should NOT be simply reacting to your requests. They are entrusted with taxpayer funding to PLAN, ORGANIZE, and MANAGE in a manner which provides the most benefit for the most people at the least cost. I.e., They are not your private tree service. You have provided a very good example of this organization NOT functioning ...

Sorry, I am a tree lover, but I draw the line there. I know people who paid from their personal checkbooks to pay arborists to give Urban Forestry advice on sick trees in public parks (this was before Urban Forestry) was re-organized (maybe 12 years back), but you're treating them like your personal tree service is a bit much ...

by Lance on Dec 1, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

I don't think DA is suggesting anyting unreasonable.

Actually, I do. I think personal notice (in the form of knocking on doors, as you suggested) is probably unreasonable. If they were talking about a tree that's technically in public space but in someone's yard, that's different. But either way, we're talking about notice.

David specifically mentioned involvement, and I have to disagree there. This isn't a semantic difference. It's one thing to ask for involvement in the way that Trulee describes (calling in a request for service), but the idea that residents should be able to micro-manage a routine tree trimming is a stretch.

Notice is good, and notice should happen. Involvement is a stretch.

Plenty of other cities have wonderful tree canopies, and they often do thanks to aggressive tree pruning and removal of diseased trees. Minneapolis, for example, has the right to remove diseased trees from private property, as well.

by Alex B. on Dec 1, 2011 3:44 pm • linkreport

these trees are public property sitting on public property, paid for and cared for (on the whole) with taxpayer dollars.

Yeah, that's why UFA should come and deal with a tree when TAXPAYERS call and report that there is a problem with a tree on public property.

The tree is on public property; it's the city's tree. Not sure how you can call the city dealing with its own tree someone's "private tree service."

If there was illegal dumping going on outside your house, should you call 311? Or should you have to call and pay a private company to take the trash away? Sounds like you're advocating the latter?

by MLD on Dec 1, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

@Lance -UFA relies on information provided to them from the public. According to their website:

Request a Street Tree Service or Planting

Call 311 or go to 311 Online to request street tree services, including reporting emergencies, pruning, removals, and planting.

Your request will be fulfilled based on the following schedule:

•Emergency Requests — within 72 hours
•Routine Maintenance Requests — Inspection within 30 days
•Planting: November to May, annually (submit requests by June 15)
•Pruning and Removal: Up to 9 months to complete

I think TruleePd just described an interaction that UFA expects based on this info.

There was no UFA at the time the stump was removed from in front of my house. Maybe the process is different now. I hope so. it was very upsetting to have my garden, that I'd spent hours on, destroyed in minutes with a big FU thrown in to boot; no courtesy information beforehand and no common human respect given by the crew when I first approached. I'm surprised by how telling the story enlivened my memory of the experience. This is something DDOT/UFA should bear in mind: needlessly destroying someone's garden can result in intense bad feelings easily recollected years later.

by Tina on Dec 1, 2011 4:00 pm • linkreport

@MLD, Not sure how you can call the city dealing with its own tree someone's "private tree service."

If you read what Trulee Pist said (and I reposted), you'll notice that it was Trulee deciding the what needed to be done and when it needed to be done. The UFA should be making those calls based on a larger plan which does the most good for the most people at the least cost ... I.e., Trulee was doing what was best for her ... but not necessarily best for all of us. Having several highly paid city employees run out to cut a branch which she identified as 'sick' to keep a tree holding on for many years may not have been the best course of action. But since it cost her nothing (since its 'the taxpayers' money") individually, she had no incentive to do the wisest thing. And it sounds like the most efficient and economical thing to do in this case would have been to cut that tree down 5 years ago and replace it with a sapling. THAT's planning, managing, and organizing .... which is what we, the taxpayers, would expect from a city department. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be keeping the taxpayer in the loop, but it does mean they shouldn't be just 'reacting' as was the case here.

by Lance on Dec 1, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

Just a correction to the article, residents and businesses do not need to print, mail or scan any form to become a Canopy Keeper tree adoptee. They can simply submit the form online to receive a watering tub:

by treeadopt on Dec 1, 2011 4:05 pm • linkreport

this was what I was referring to:

"It has been in decline for a 5 years now, and every other year or so, we have requested sick limbs be removed before they fall, and each time (3 times in all over 5 years), DC crews came out and removed what was dying to promote the health of the rest of the tree, promptly.

Maybe I'm misreading ... but it sounds to me like it was Trulee calling the shots on the tree ... and not the UFA ... I.e., There's a difference between the adjacent resident being 'involved' and 'taking charge'.

by Lance on Dec 1, 2011 4:10 pm • linkreport

You're misreading, Lance.

It's not like he called up UFA and asked them to sculpt that tree into a giant Heart or a Spade.

It's the exact same thing as calling 311 and asking them to patch a pothole on your street.

by Alex B. on Dec 1, 2011 4:13 pm • linkreport

@Alex B. - I wished someone had knocked on MY door. Maybe its unreasonable to think someone would do that (the crew before they worked, e.g.), but I wished it dearly at the time. I was not notified in ANY form, including with a sign strapped to something nearby indicating the stump was going to be removed. Do you think thats acceptable?

Again, there was no UFA at the time and I hope UFA would notify -in ANY way- that "tree stump will be removed sometime between June 30 and July 15".

Given that residents are expected to care for these plots of land, don't you think its contradictory for DDOT/UFA to have that expectation and then, by failing to give any notice in any form that work will be done on that plot cause the destruction of the maintainence a resident has provided for that plot?

by Tina on Dec 1, 2011 4:14 pm • linkreport


I explicitly stated above that I think they need to give notice, and that they should improve on their practices of doing so.

I still think that knocking on doors to inform people of routine maintenance is overkill.

I grew up in Minneapolis, where they give notice of trees to be removed due to disease by painting a large orange X on them. That's the notice.

by Alex B. on Dec 1, 2011 4:43 pm • linkreport

@Alex B -I don't really think you and I are disagreeing. I was just looking for "Yeah they screwed up with your case!" validation, which you are not inclined to give, apparently.

If a big orange X had been painted on the stump, and thus I had had time to transplant my flower bed, that would have been more than adequate; it would have been great.

But I didn't get that! What I got was worse than no notice. In addition to no notice I also got extreme rudeness from the crew when I tried to ask "who are you? What are doing?" I only got spoken to when I said I was going to call the police, b/c they wouldn't tell me who they were and what they were doing. To me it looked like they were vandalizing. Then they told me they were sent by the city to remove the stump and F**k no you can't remove any plants.

by Tina on Dec 1, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

@Lance, You could not possibly be more off base. I used the system, available to all residents. Last spring, encouraged residents to request tree-planting if they wanted saplings on their block. I did so. Our block's request was met. I am sure many others were not. It was up to UFA to sift through requests and decide which locations made sense. Our block got lucky. No one lobbied anybody for special preference, we just presented our block as potential host for 8 new trees, and UFA agreed that was a good location.

Same with trimming dead branches. In the first two instances, the form actually includes a specific condition I was reporting (a branch hanging down vertically), and they came and removed the dead, offending, dangerous branch. In the last instance, I requested removal, and UFA came out and determined a trim, rather than removal, made sense. I shrugged and bowed to UFA's greater expertise.

Now 18 months later, the disease has invaded the main trunk, bark if falling off the main trunk from the ground up to 6 feet high, and UFA indicated on the website, "Thanks for alerting me to this. The tree will be removed ASAP. Work order #....:". I submitted the request, UFA investigated, a work order was sent out indicating removal some time in the next 9 months. I am hoping hoping hoping removal comes before the next heavy snowfall, but not making any special demands or lobbying for me first

Isn't that how UFA and is supposed to work?

by Trulee Pist on Dec 1, 2011 6:40 pm • linkreport

Oh, and P.S.

When they posted the notice on the website that they'd seen the complaint and had a work order to remove the tree, an orange dot was spray painted onto the tree. I hope that doesn't make Tina's head explode, but 20 years later, UFA is hip to the idea of spraypaint-marking trees (or stumps) they intend to remove.

UFA, you rock!

by Trulee Pist on Dec 1, 2011 6:57 pm • linkreport

David - I have to agree that this post is more about a single experience than any fundamental problem with the way UFA interacts with the public. Additionally, the picture you provide a tree pruned to achieve 8' clearance and the concerns you raise speak to your limited knowledge on the subject of arboriculture. If you are hoping to achieve a set clearance, 8, 10, 12 feet whatever, you cannot just cut adjacent limbs to a distance precisely that distance away from whatever you are trying to achieve the clearance from. Proper arboricultural practices may require that the pruning site be further than the required clearance. In other words, in the picture you provide above the tree appears to be pruned appropriately. No stubs, no reductions of a primary limb to an insufficient lateral, etc. In what is an ongoing compromise between tree and house, this seems to be a very effective pruning effort.

In terms of notice, I think it is probably hard for UFA to provide the type of notification you are describing considering the volume of work they perform.To that end however, it is a shame you didn't provide a link to the map of upcoming planting locations UFA has on its website. According to the site, they are in the midst of planting over 3500 trees. See here:

Lastly, I would remind you that this is the same group that works around the clock to clear trees (even those from private property) that fall into our public right of way during storms, etc.

by canopy crusader on Dec 1, 2011 9:54 pm • linkreport

At the very least, it makes community-relations sense for UFA to visibly post -- along with its no-parking notices -- URL links to the database that indicates what kind of work (e.g., pruning, removal) is going to be done where when. The site could also have sections that explain the pruning objectives and criteria, so residents might have some idea what to expect.

Ideally, there would also be an email contact point to which citizens could make their case for different treatment of "their" trees.

Nice booklets would be eschewed on the grounds half of them will end up scattered in the street. The residents who care will manage to locate the info on line.

I have largely had good experiences with UFA. That said, if the city is going to make it my responsibility to keep the artful mix of crabgrass, clover, and dandelions no higher than ten inches on the treelawn in front of my house, I should also have at least a chance to explain that the branches of a deciduous tree four feet from my west-facing front windows are a godsend and should be left alone.

by taxpayer verde on Dec 2, 2011 2:09 am • linkreport

Matthew -- I don't think DC has a regulation about tree canopy height clearance on sidewalks, they should. Rule of thumb in the trade is either 7 or 8 feet. It tends to not be covered in ped plans very often.


The Minneapolis Ped. Plan (their bike plan is one of the most thorough in the nation) doesn't have a maintenance section, unlike their bike plan. They discuss trees but not clearance height. In a different section of the plan they do mention vegetation encroachment, but the expressed concern is more at the ground level than about the walkway height.

I don't know if DC regulations cover encroachment of planting material on the sidewalk right of way either. If there are, and there probably are, they are rarely enforced.

I regularly take photos of vegetation encroachment, and sometimes I've heard of a branch pruning vigilante.

I wrote recommendations about this in the bike & ped plan I did for Baltimore County, but they probably got stripped, as that section of the pre-posted draft plan about design issues was mostly excised.

My experience through observation is that when trees are marked for cutting (orange dot) even if they "look" fine, once you look at the remains, there's no question that the tree was seriously diseased and at risk.

On our private property, when we first moved in we had a tree that looked 90% great--it had one problem, but in the three years since, it has mostly died. It's sad as it was probably an 80+ year old tree, very tall, with a great canopy.

I don't know how I feel about notice. Often, but not always, notice of a sort is posted ("no parking signs" referring to UFA as the reason). Or the orange dot.

Probably the issue is more about instituting some form of standard posted notification procedures on the trees/signposts. Door knocking, door-to-door notice, etc., seems unnecessary.

by Richard Layman on Dec 2, 2011 6:07 am • linkreport

Oh, while it would be nice and the firms should train their employees better, it's a stretch to expect without prompting -contracting requirements, that contractors--instructed to cut down branches and trees--to reposition the way they conceive of the jobs of their employees as partly customer service representatives dealing with citizens in a thoughtful way, because the typical citizen who comes up to them is probably pretty knowledgeable. They see what they do is cutting branches and trees, not working with citizens to ensure the quality of the city's public spaces and green infrastructure.

I experienced a similar problem once with a BID and their snow clearance procedures being athwart of the law--snow was being dumped into the street, including the bike lane.

Even as I was doing it, I realized it was stupid for me to try to explain the law to a functionary. I contacted the BID (didn't blog about it as a professional courtesy), and outlined both the need to follow the snow removal guidelines and to do better training of their street crews and ambassadors wrt customer service. (E.g., the kind of "ambassador" training provided to people in the hospitality industry.)

I don't know if they have instituted better training, but they did correct the "flaws" in what they had been doing about snow clearance.

There is no question that more ambassador/customer service type training needs to be done for DC Govt. employees and contractors.

by Richard Layman on Dec 2, 2011 6:15 am • linkreport

Classic blogger fallacy: dripping with intuition, completely absent of expertise. To the point that it actually derides experts. Really, you don't know what you're talking about. I know enough about trees to know I know more than you, but not as much as the experts at UFA.

But philosophically, to everyone demanding hand-holding concierge service for every conceivable government action: get over yourself. We have a city that generally works and gets things done (remember the early 90s when the city couldn't even pick up leaves?). The enemy of efficiency is perfection; the system works because it's not an anarchic collective where everyone gets a say and their fee-fees take priority over results.

And no the interwebs and the youtubes don't miraculously change this.

by crin on Dec 2, 2011 9:50 am • linkreport

"the system works because it's not an anarchic collective where everyone gets a say and their fee-fees take priority over results."

For reference, see Occupy Wall Street, Barcelona anarchists c. 1937.

by crin on Dec 2, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

I don't know if DC regulations cover encroachment of planting material on the sidewalk right of way either. If there are, and there probably are, they are rarely enforced.

Yes there are, and they are enforced. Let your bushes grow and within a few months you will get a registered letter with a $100 fine on it.

by goldfish on Dec 2, 2011 10:34 am • linkreport

I have a question: Can the District trim trees that are on our property, or only ones that are in the street boxes? I'm paying a tree company to trim a maple on our front garden patch that's too close to the house. Am I paying for something that, if I waited long enough, the District would come and do anyway? (Possibly without notifying me first?) I'm a fairly new District resident, so just wondering...

by Lisa on Dec 2, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport

On notification, I have in the past received (hand delivered) letters from DDOT (UFA's parent agency) notifying me of road work on my road.

Why not do the same thing for trees? When the contractor comes through to put up no parking signs they should also drop a letter notifying residents of the block that a contractor will be performing tree trimming. Ideally it would specify which trees, so people like Tina could move their garden.

by ah on Dec 2, 2011 12:47 pm • linkreport

@Lisa No, the city only cares for its street trees. It does not perform maintenance on private property.

by Canopy Crusader on Dec 2, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport


Your front yard (depending on where in the city you live) might not be private property - it might be public space.

I don't know how DC's regs cover that situation. Other cities (such as Minneapolis) do reserve the right to cut down diseased trees on private property. They can also trim them for infringement on public ROW (such as utility lines, overhanging a sidewalk, etc) and for other public safety reasons, but it doesn't include regular trimming.

by Alex B. on Dec 2, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

@Trulee P. It was up to UFA to sift through requests and decide which locations made sense. Our block got lucky. No one lobbied anybody for special preference.

I agree. Sorry if it sounded like I was taking you to task. I was really more just frustrated that this 'model agency' that I keep hearing all the District government people talk about ... seemed to be anything but a 'model' one ...

And yeah, if they're not going to take charge of the situation, you by all means have the right to do what you did.

by Lance on Dec 3, 2011 5:57 pm • linkreport

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