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Posts about Trees


A tree I planted in Shaw 20 years ago was recently chopped down. I see that as a sign of life.

Twenty years ago, I planted an elm tree on the sidewalk near my house. Despite the relatively high chance that a driver would run their car into it, that never happened. It did, however, recently come down as part of a construction project. To me, my tree being gone perfectly captures just how much DC has changed.

I planted the big tree in the middle of this photo! Image from Google Maps.

Back in the spring, Greater Greater Washington ran post about how drivers just can't seem to keep from running into a building at the intersection of 6th and Penn Street NE, on the western side of Gallaudet University. It got contributors talking about 7th and Q Streets NW, where there's been a similar problem for years.

The conversation caught my attention for two reasons: First, I used to live on that block, and it was a fairly regular occurrence for drivers coming southbound on 7th and turning left onto Q to lose control and crash. I think it happened four times in the six years I lived there; a decade ago, a Metrobus plowed into the building at the southeast corner of the intersection, which is the reason it doesn't have a second story (In fairness, it wasn't the fault of the Metrobus driver, he had swerved to avoid a car whose driver had lost control in the intersection.)

But I was also drawn to a tree that's in a picture of the intersection that someone emailed out.

It was an elm, and I planted it 20 years ago.

Back then DC wasn't really planting trees. In fact, it wasn't doing all that much of anything. The city was broke and had just been taken over by the federal government because it couldn't govern itself.

But there it was, an empty treebox there. Every DC street has a designated species of tree, and for 7th NW, it's elms. So I ordered a bare-root elm seedling from a mail-order nursery, and wondered how the UPS guy was going to bring my tree— the picture in the catalog was something the size of what you see in the photo. I was crushed when it came and was about the length and thickness of a pencil and looked indistinguishable from a dead stick.

Undeterred, I planted it in my yard, where it took, and after a year or so, when it got to be a few feet tall I transplanted it out to the street. And for 20 years, as you can see, it thrived. Miraculously, an out-of-control driver never ran it over!

This corner has undergone enormous change in the past two decades, with a major mixed-use development replacing the old Kelsey Gardens on the other side of 7th Street, Dacha Beer Garden on the opposite corner, and a number of new business nearby. For nearly all of the time since I planted the elm, the corner has been in a state of semi-demolition.

And this is happening all around DC: buildings going up, roads getting paved, trees getting planted. I look around and DC isn't perfect now, but it's not bankrupt anymore either.

Last weekend I went back to my old neighborhood for the first time in a while and saw a flurry of construction: street work, new sidewalks, utility work. It even looks like the corner building might finally be redeveloped.

But I noticed something else as well: The elm is gone.

A neighbor told me it didn't survive the latest round of utility work, so it came down, along with a sycamore around the corner on Q Street (sycamores being the designated species for Q Street). It's funny to think: back when I lived there, if a tree died, it just fell over. Nobody came to properly cut it down because there was so much disinvestment going on.

20 years later, my elm is gone. Photo by the author.

It's almost paradoxical, but I see the death of this tree as a sign of life. That's how it goes: a never-ending dance of growth, destruction, and rebirth.

Public Spaces

Car-free travel idea: Backpacking via Metro

Sure, the Metro can take you to many places, but did you know that you can take it to go backpacking? Parks in both Maryland and Virginia have campgrounds that are less than a one-hour hike away from Metro stations.

Greenbelt Park has family-friendly hiking trails. Photo by Brian Vallelunga on Flickr.

Greenbelt Park in Greenbelt, Maryland

This 174-site campground sits atop a heavily wooded ridge between two small streams that feed into the Anacostia River, within a National Park Service-run park that also has nine miles of hiking trails. It's a two-mile walk from the east entrance to the College Park Metro, about half of which is on sidewalks (going near the College Park Aviation Museum) and the other half on trails; NPS even provides convenient turn-by-turn directions.

The park is also about three miles south of Old Greenbelt, an experimental town built by the federal government during the Great Depression.

Lake Fairfax Park's group campground. Photo by Adam Theo on Flickr.

Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Virginia

The three campgrounds near Lake Fairfax are run by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The hike from Wiehle Metro to the nearest campsite is just under two miles, both along suburban streets and along the uppermost reach of the Difficult Run trail, which ultimately leads to Great Falls Park. Besides the recreational lake, the park also has a skateboard area and an "activity pool" with waterslides and a lazy river.

Reston was also built as an experimental planned community, albeit in the 1960s, and the campground is three miles from Reston's original "village center."

Lockhouse 6, one of six cabins for rent along the C&O Canal. Photo by TrailVoice on Flickr.

C&O Canal National Historic Park in Brookmont, Maryland

If a cabin with a kitchen and water views is more your style, Lockhouse 6 is a restored cabin right along the C&O canal that you can rent out for $150 per night. Built almost 200 years ago for canal employees, it's now decorated in a 1950s style and includes a kitchen and bathroom.

Getting there takes either a three-mile walk from the Friendship Heights Metro—or just a five-minute walk from RideOn's bus route 23, which runs Monday through Saturday and stops at Broad Street and Maryland Avenue in Brookmont. A campsite that convenient does have one drawback: the cabin backs up to busy Clara Barton Parkway.

Public Spaces

This plan would make it easier to walk or bike from L'Enfant Plaza to the Southwest Waterfront

For the past year, the National Park Service has been working on a way to make it easier to pass through Banneker Park, from L'Enfant Plaza to the forthcoming Wharf development and Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. It just released its plan for making that happen.

The NPS's preference for the Banneker Park design.

Right now at Banneker Circle, there are no curb ramps to get from the roadway to the I-395 pedestrian bridge, the path to the intersection of Maine Avenue and 9th Street NE, or the informal path to Maine Avenue. The plan to change that, which NPS has identified as its "preferred alternative," calls for two new paths and a new staircase. It's a continued improvement over the concepts presented last summer.

The staircase replaces the existing informal pathway with a direct connection between the park's west side and the crossing that leads people across Maine Avenue and to the Wharf development at the Southwest Waterfront. The staircase is set to include transition areas for safe and comfortable access, integrated lighting, and a bicycle trough.

A rendering of Banneker Park from the Wharf side of Maine Avenue.

An 8-foot wide, ADA-compliant sidewalk will go in place of the existing path, running from the corner of Maine Avenue and 9th Street SW to the park's east side. About halfway up the hill, it crosses the eastbound lane of L'Enfant Plaza, then follows alongside that lane before crossing the westbound lane at the top of the hill.

There will also be a new crosswalk on the north side of the park, and all of the new sidewalks will get curb ramps, which aren't there now.

Rendering of Banneker Park from 9th and Maine

In addition, a second 8-foot wide ADA-compliant path will connect the pedestrian crossing to the Wharf to the other path's L'Enfant Plaza crosswalk.

The new design also includes new trees, paying homage to the park's original design by Dan Kiley. There will be restored landscaping, potential stormwater retention areas, and the 6-foot wide sidewalk along the north side of Maine Ave will get wider.

The addition of curb ramps, stairs, crosswalks and ADA-compliant paths should make the whole area easier to traverse for people on bikes, on foot, or in wheelchairs. It should also create an improved connection between the I-395 bicycle/pedestrian bridge, the National Mall and the Anacostia Riverwalk.

NPS has considered another design, calling it the "non-preferred alternative." That one would create a parallel staircase and ramp around the east side of the park that ran to the pedestrian crossing to the Wharf.

NPS has taken the project, started by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), through the Environmental Assessment process and will be returning to the NCPC for a revised concept review on April 7.


Events roundup: Roar into the new year!

Start your new year right with events about Route 1 in Fairfax, car technology, DC's 11th Street Bridge, trees, and more.

Image by BeyondDC.

Growth and the environment on Route 1: Development along Route 1 in Fairfax County can make the area more lively, and if done right, also help improve water quality at the same time.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth will follow up its recent walking tour of the area with a talk by Danielle Wynne of the Fairfax County Department of Public Works about the county's ideas for redeveloping the area and protecting the environment. Join the discussion on Wednesday, January 7 at 7:15 pm at 2511 Parkers Lane in Alexandria.

Transportation tech about the car: Despite growth in transit, walking, and bicycling, many people drive and technology can help with that as well. This month's Transportation Techies Meetup features researchers and companies working on apps and technology to improve your driving and parking. This month's meetup is Thursday, January 8 at the Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd in Arlington, from 6 to 9 pm (presentations start at 6:30).

11th Street Bridge Park design: The team that created the winning design for a new park across the Anacostia River will talk about their work at a panel discussion at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, on Thursday, January 8, from 6:30 to 8 pm. The event is $12 for NBM members and $20 for nonmembers; buy tickets in advance.

Casey Trees for the kids: If you are an environmentally conscious parent with young children 2 to 4 years old, join Casey Trees for a tree-focused story time, this Friday, January 9, 10-10:45 at the Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave SE. It features environmentally-focused books, songs, and craft time, and every family will leave with a scavenger hunt to complete.

ACT with David Alpert: This month's meeting of the Action Committee for Transit will feature Greater Greater Washington founder David Alpert, who will talk about how blogs, advocates, businesses, and government officials all have to work together to win support for transit and other projects. The meeting is Tuesday, January 13 starting at 7:30 at the Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Place.

Talk about the transition: A group of DC advocacy organizations has been working to get ideas from residents around the city for Muriel Bowser's mayoralty. The work will culminate in a town hall meeting on Saturday, January 17. The organizers hope to draw a representative sample of residents from all parts of the District.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at

Public Spaces

DC's street trees are thriving. Here's why

Trees give us shade and beauty, so it's no wonder a lot of DC residents would want to help care for them. But while residents are still the first line of care for older trees, DDOT has a great safety net that boosts their efforts and helps new street trees thrive.

Photo by Leigh Anthony Dehaney on Flickr.

DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) inspects all of its new trees within the first year of planting, and it's quick to respond to service requests for older trees as well. Beyond that, UFA keeps notes of what its arborists find and, and it makes public its plans for resolving the issue.

UFA relies on residents' service requests to help prioritize annual street planting locations. This planting season, DDOT has a record 8,000 trees planned. Residents can watch the progress in what's almost real time as DDOT updates its tree planting and removal maps daily.

DDOT has made a greater effort to take care of young trees

One criticism of the planting program voiced in 2010 was that the District was planting trees and then hoping residents would volunteer to water and care for them through UFA or Casey Trees. If nobody stepped up during the cool fall and winter, those same trees would all too often die during the first hot summer.

Fast forward to 2014, and DDOT has really stepped up its efforts. UFA is keeping metrics on not only first year trees, but also starting to track metrics on trees in their second year of growth.

Residents and business owners are still the ones who need to water trees that are more than a year old. But DDOT now installs a watering bag on all new trees, and during the summer it also waters them twice a month throughout their first year. There have been over 62,000 "watering events" for trees planted within the past year, and trees have gulped down over one million gallons of water in the time span. There's even a nifty animated video showing the weekly watering activities from this past summer.

UFA's agreement with its contractor allows for easy tree replacement

C&D Tree Service, DDOT's contractor, charges $268 $295 for each tree it plants. For that price, C&D provides a warranty on each tree that that replaces trees that are dead, dying, or in poor condition which is the case if a tree has less than 90 percent live canopy. The only trees C&D isn't responsible for are those damaged by vandals, drivers, or thieves.

UFA conducted a warranty replacement on 125 trees over the past year after residents submitted requests via calling 311. Beyond those requests, in September UFA arborists inspect every new trees planted during the previous fall and winter, resulting in several hundred more warranty replacements.

With the exception of one anomaly, the last half-decade has been great for DC trees

With all this care and attention, 19 out of 20 trees thrive after the first year. Prior to this past year, UFA reported tree mortality and warranty replacement within a very low range, 4.5-7.0 percent, over the past four seasons.

WardTrees plantedWarranty replacements required

Unfortunately, UFA's supervisory forester Earl Eustler reports, last year was rough, as tree mortality spiked to approximately 15 percent. "In my 11 years of planting street trees in DC," he said, "last year was the first in which the earth actually froze beyond a depth of a few inches near the surface."

This year, DDOT plans to alter the planting schedule if a similar situation occurs.

As residents, our watering and tree-related service requests serve a critical role in expanding our tree canopy. With our help and UFA's ongoing improvements, the District left the age of "plant and forget" in the past. Newly planted trees, when taken care of, will be part of our community for years to come.

Editor's note: We've received clarification from UFA that while $268 was the cost per tree with warranty during the first year of the contract. We're now in the fifth year and the contract cost is $295 per tree.

Public Spaces

Street trees can't ask for more soil themselves, but new DC standards will help them get it

Trees are a special quality of DC's urban environment, but the city's tree canopy has been shrinking in recent years. A new set of design standards ensures new construction on the roads and in public space includes enough soil so that trees can thrive.

Photo by Dewita Soeharjono on Flickr.

In April 2014, the District Department of Transportation released new green infrastructure design standards for its projects. A major goal is to capture rain directly where it falls rather than dumping it into sewers or rivers, which causes flooding, spreads pollution, taxes sewer systems, and wastes an increasingly valuable resource.

The standards push for green areas to retain stormwater in heavily-paved areas like sidewalks, plazas, and streets. With them, DC joined a growing group of cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago that use "low-impact design" features to help restore ecological function to urban areas.

But the District is distinguishing itself by also requiring a minimum soil volume for street trees, which must now get 600 to 1,500 cubic feet of soil (depending on how large they can grow).

Trees play an important role in our lives

Many of us have fond memories linked to trees. Perhaps you had a favorite climbing spot as a kid or you planted one in the yard of the first house you bought. Maybe you regularly cool off in a tree's shade during a heat wave or have called the parks department when one was vandalized in your neighborhood.

People instinctively want to be around trees, which makes sense when you consider how good they are for human health. Trees make cities cleaner, more inviting, safer, and more profitable.

According to Casey Trees, a local nonprofit, DC's tree canopy currently covers 35 percent of its land, down from 50 percent in 1950. Advocates want to to turn that around and reach 40 percent by 2035. An increase of five percent may sound small, but to meet this goal the District will need to add more than 2,000 acres of tree canopy—an estimated 216,000 trees.

It's not just about the number of trees. While trees are part of almost every DC street, mature urban trees are rare, meaning the city frequently loses out on the value and utility they bring to public spaces.

Mature trees are significantly more valuable than young ones to the ecosystem. A tree with a 30-inch trunk circumference delivers 70 times the air quality benefits of a tree with a 3-inch trunk. And mature trees "intercept," or prevent from hitting the ground, far more rainwater per year than young ones. That reduces the amount of stormwater that flows into sewers and rivers, which frequently causes flooding and carries pollutants. One model found a 40-year-old hackberry tree intercepted 5,387 gallons of rainfall per year while a 5-year-old one intercepted only 133 gallons—a 40-fold difference.

Soil is key to healthy trees

The long-term success of a tree is fundamentally linked to the quantity and quality of the soil it grows in. To make a real impact the District needs to not just plant trees, but give them the space and nutrients they need to grow to maturity. , soil retains rainwater directly where it falls, which is good because diverted rainwater leads to flooding, spreads pollution, taxes sewer systems, and wastes an increasingly valuable resource.

For context, the average street tree in a typical 4' x 4' space can have as little as 75 cubic feet of soil. This is less than one tenth of what experts recommend for long-term tree health. The new policy will guarantee space for roots, and coupled with proper care and maintenence, will enable trees to grow and thrive for decades to come.

There are an increasing number of ways to put soil below streets, parking lots, and plazas to give trees soil even in dense or pedestrian-heavy areas. For example, the new American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial at Washington Avenue and 2nd and C streets SW, which my company worked on, suspends the pavement with soil cells, modular, stacking units that leave space for soil and roots for 30 trees.

Soil cells at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Image from DeepRoot.

DC's renewed commitment to trees will pay off in the long term

These new green infrastructure standards arise from years of discussion, public comment, and pilot projects. "DDOT has attempted to change the culture of urban stormwater management by applying these standards to all capital improvement and private sector projects in the public space," said (former) DDOT Chief Engineer Ronaldo Nicholson in a press release in April about the new standards.

Residents might not notice all that much change immediately. After all, trees take years to grow and reach their potential. But our children will.

Public Spaces

Bury power lines under streets, not sidewalks

DC is about to launch a massive project burying 163 miles of power lines. The project will improve power reliability, but hidden issues could impact neighborhood streetscapes and tree canopies.

Photo by Timothy Hoagland, Casey Trees.

After the 2012 derecho caused widespread power outages, DC began development of a plan to improve reliability during extreme weather, called DC Power Lines Undergrounding (DC PLUG). DC PLUG will cost nearly $1 billion to underground power lines throughout the city, which will improve power reliability during extreme weather.

But how will the lines be buried? Right now, the plan doesn't specify where in the streetscape the underground lines will go. Burying the power line under sidewalks would allow DDOT and Pepco to avoid digging up streets during construction, but could hurt the health and safety of thousands of trees.

Approximately 8700 street trees are in the right-of-way along the 163 miles of power lines that DC PLUG has tapped for burial.

Instead of burying the lines under sidewalks, Casey Trees recommends burying the lines in the roadway:

Casey Trees' preferred underground placement location. Image from Casey Trees.

If DC and Pepco bury lines in the roadway, the majority of communities with trees threatened by this project won't be affected during construction. The city won't have to recover or replant thousands of trees, and will preserve the beauty of DC's historic tree-lined neighborhoods.

Above ground wires won't disappear

Don't get too excited over the prospect of a wire-free city. It would take $5 billion to fully underground every above ground wire within the city's 21 identified vulnerable areas, never mind every wire in the city - money that's not in the budget.

Locations of proposed underground lines. Image from Casey Trees.

According to DDOT and Pepco, DC PLUG will only bury the "primary" power lines of the 21 least reliable feeders. So even if your street is in an area targeted by DC PLUG, you'll still have above ground wires. That's because utility poles, secondary service lines, and other telecommunications wires will remain above ground. Streets where DDOT and Pepco propose to bury lines will see changes like this:

Before and after undergrounding of primary power lines. Images from DDOT.

Comment on Tuesday

Residents still have time to weigh in on the undergrounding project this week.
The DC Public Service Commission is holding a community hearing tomorrow night at 6:00 pm. The hearing location is the DC Public Service Commission hearing room, 1333 H St NW, 7th floor east tower.

If you're unable to attend the hearing in person, you can still submit written testimony to the Commission at 1333 H Street, NW, Suite 200, West Tower, Washington DC 20005 until September 15.

The commission will vote on the plan after a congressional review period ends in October.


Cheh funds 11th Street Bridge Park, trees and recreation for Ivy City, and an Upper Northwest pool

Transportation chair Mary Cheh has released her serious budget proposals today, and has added funding to design and build a park on the piers of the old 11th Street Bridge, give the neglected Ivy City neighborhood new trees and a recreation center, and more.

Artist's rendering of the 11th Street Bridge Park.

Tomorrow, Cheh will propose that her committee amend Mayor Gray's proposed transportation capital budget to add $2 million to design the bridge park in Fiscal Year 2015, followed by $12.5 million across FY2016 and FY2017 to build it. That will cover half the cost; bridge supporters plan to raise the other half from private sources.

Under Cheh's plan, $300,000 will go to fix up streetscapes at Eastern Market, while $1 million over two years will pay to extend Ivy City's sidewalks and include treeboxes. That neighborhood, in an industrial part of the city, has no tree boxes on most of its streets, and therefore no street trees.

Instead of a tour bus parking lot, as the Gray administration proposed last year, Cheh's budget will fund a recreation center on that site (which costs almost $9 million). Rec centers in Chevy Chase, Edgewood, Hardy (in Foxhall Village) and Hillcrest get more money as well, as does the Therapeutic Recreation Center in Ward 7's Randle Circle.

The budget includes $500,000 to finish design for Franklin Square (but funding to actually help build the new park is yet to come in the future).

Roads will also get more money: repaving and repairs to roadways get a boost of $321,000 for each of the eight wards in FY2015. That's in addition to the mayor's capital budget which gave each ward's road projects about $5.2 million over six years. Ward 8 also got an extra $1.3 million from Gray, and Cheh's amendment moves it from the operating budget to the capital budget.

Finally, Cheh is funding a new outdoor pool to go somewhere in Ward 3, which residents have been campaigning for. Critics note that Ward 3 has one of the top public indoor swimming facilities in the city, at Wilson High School, but proponents say that indoor swimming isn't the same, and besides, the ward should have more pools.

Cheh's proposal also will fund some Ward 3 school and library projects: the Cleveland Park library, Palisades Library, Murch Elementary and Watkins Elementary renovations, and also the Capitol View library in Ward 7. It's not unusual for each ward councilmember to pop a few ward-based projects into their respective committees' budgets.

Where does this money come from?

A lot of the money comes from the South Capitol Street Bridge project. It current includes a swing span so that ships can access the Washington Navy Yard, but that was only opened 4 times in the last 8 years.

The Coast Guard has reportedly told DDOT that it is probably fine with not replacing the swing span. And, according to Cheh's committee director Drew Newman, they feel that if the federal government really wants a swing span anyway, then federal money should fund it. (DC is building the South Capitol bridge with local dollars, not federal transportation funds.) The change will save up to $140 million.

Cheh is also moving some streetcar money to later years, because DDOT has built up a surplus of almost $100 million in its streetcar accounts, and won't need some money in the capital plan until later on, according to Cheh's staff's analysis.

Circulator fares freeze, and commuter rail gets a plan

In the operating budget, not much is changing from Mayor Gray's very pro-transit budget. Cheh will freeze Circulator fares at their current level of $1 for at least one year, so that DDOT can engage with the public about whether the fares have to rise.

Another $500,000 will pay to create a Comprehensive Rail Plan. DC does not control MARC, VRE, Amtrak, or CSX, but there needs to be a unified plan about how to help grow commuter rail service in, out, and through DC. The tracks and stations at Union Station, L'Enfant Plaza, and the Long Bridge over the Potomac will need changes to make this possible, and since those facilities are in DC, the District can play a leadership role. The Committee of 100's Monte Edwards has been lobbying for planning around commuter rail, and he's absolutely right. Cheh agrees.

The Committee on Transportation and the Environment will hold its mark-up tomorrow. The other members, David Grosso, Kenyan McDuffie, Jim Graham, and Tommy Wells, could seek to introduce other amendments as well, though typically these budget proposals already reflect requests and negotiations between the councilmembers.

Public Spaces

Where are DC's streets the greenest?

Students at MIT recently created a map of greenery along DC streets by analyzing Google Street View images to approximate visible plant life for each street, using dots of varying sizes and opacities.

DC Street Greenery. Map from MIT.

The You Are Here project will create 100 different maps for 100 different cities. Students are hoping to inspire social change and help individuals better understand the surrounding urban environments.

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