Sidewalks, cycle lanes, trees, theft, drugs. Long letter to city commission

CENTRE STREET SIDEWALK AND TREES

Last week I received a letter from the city which says the city intends to install a sidewalk on the north side of my property in the city right-of-way. I have a few comments/questions about this. The first one is regarding trees. I did speak with Mr. Yockey, who is the city contact listed on the letter, and he said that some trees may have to be cut down.

Although I’m concerned about all the trees along this intended sidewalk’s route, I’m particularly concerned about 2 red pine trees in front of my house. One of the trees I’m fairly certain is on my private property, but it’s very close to the property line as well as to the area where the new sidewalk would lay. The other tree I’m about equally certain is within the city right-of-way and directly in the path of any sidewalk.

When I spoke to Mr. Yockey about these particular trees he did say that it would probably be possible to go around them with the sidewalk and they probably wouldn’t have to be cut down. Of course, this conversation happened prior to a topography survey the engineering department wants to around my and neighbouring properties which are on the Centre Street hill.

I asked him whether there would be any tree experts consulted because, since my property is on a hill, if the city were to have to cut down further into the ground than it would if the ground were level, it may cause more damage to the tree roots. I wondered if enough of the roots are damaged if it may cause the tree to die, but not being an expert on trees I wouldn’t know. I do know that red pine roots radiate out in a circle from the trunk and are close to the surface (with one tap root that extends downward from the trunk).

Mr. Yockey did confirm my suspicions that if they have to cut into too much of the root system they might as well take the tree down because it would do so much damage it might die. So I’m still quite worried that these trees are going to be cut down to lay a sidewalk or will die if the root systems are cut too much.

Now I’m not against sidewalks, but I do think that trees have far more value than concrete does, and I’m against placing a sidewalk where trees need to be cut. It’s my understanding that for red pines to grow best (from seedlings, if they were to be cut and replaced) it needs to be in soil that’s been heat treated. They’re a type of tree that in the wild relies on severe forest fire to propagate. Not to mention, the trees in front of my house have almost certainly reached their mature height and we would be losing the benefits of large mature trees.

When I look around the area I see that there are other trees nearby that may need to be cut. There’s a white pine, an oak, a red pine (on a neighbouring property) and other trees. I started to wonder why we are cutting down trees to place a sidewalk when Centre Street itself is so wide? It’s obvious all the width is not needed for vehicles to drive 2 ways on the street. Why doesn’t the city take the space from the street instead of the trees? I suspect the answer is the cost of creating new curbs would be greater than the cost of cutting down trees?

It’s a shame our city would cut down so many trees which provide so much benefit to lay concrete when all the trees could be saved by taking some space from the street.

I know at least one of my neighbours isn’t likely to care whether the trees in front of his property are cut. I base this on the fact that a couple of years ago he hired a tree company to come and cut down nearly every tree in the lot next to his house (which he also owns). About three quarters of the lot was clear cut, leaving only the trees in the very front and in the very back. I wondered if maybe he was going to build a garage or something, but thus far, nothing. So instead of seeing a nice wooded lot in the summer we now have to look at ugly apartment buildings all year long. We don’t even get the benefit of seeing the lake anymore, because a developer at 710 Centre Street built a building which ended up completely blocking our view.

REQUIRING PERMITS FOR CUTTING TREES ON PRIVATE PROPERTY

A few weeks ago some young people spoke to the commission suggesting requiring a permit to cut down trees on private property. I want to lend some support to this idea, but with some changes. They proposed a permit for cutting down trees which were beyond a certain age. The first thing I wondered was how someone tells a tree is beyond a particular age? I’m not sure it should be based on age even if there is a way to tell. I think it should be based more on the diameter and height.

My neighbour cut down numerous large trees such as oaks, white pines and birch. I don’t know the age of those trees but they were very large and I felt it was a shame to lose them for no apparent reason. I think a permit should be required to cut large trees and the permit only be granted if there’s a compelling reason. Just because you don’t like trees isn’t a compelling reason in my opinion. During the permit process the neighbours should be notified of the intent to cut the trees and be given an opportunity to voice support or opposition, because what someone does on their property does affect the value and enjoyment of neighbouring properties. I’m definitely very disappointed about the way this neighbouring lot looks after so many trees were cut.

PUBLIC HEARINGS FOR PUBLIC TREES

When the city wants to cut large trees I think there should be a public hearing for each tree proposed to be cut. The city should present its reasons and justifications for cutting the tree and the public should be allowed to weigh in on the plan. I personally don’t think that laying a slab of concrete, aka a sidewalk, is a compelling reason to cut so many of my neighbourhood’s trees. I’ve never seen a public hearing for cutting trees. Why isn’t there one?

SIDEWALKS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE CITY

I wonder if there will be any more public discussion about this sidewalk project? The study session last week was dominated by the 8th Street project and when the discussion of sidewalks came up everyone appeared to be tired and it wasn’t much of a discussion. Going by memory (not having reviewed the recording), I think Centre Street was the only specific street mentioned. There was only a general mention of other neighbourhoods/areas than need sidewalks.

The letter I received from the city said the city intends to install sidewalks on both the north and south side of Centre Street. I immediately wondered why install sidewalks on both sides of Centre Street when they could be installed on one side and money that was to go to the other side could be used to install a sidewalk on a street somewhere in the city where it’s also needed. I don’t think we’re filling in every sidewalk this year are we?

SIDEWALKS AROUND NMC AND EAST BAY PARK

One area that comes to my mind right away is E. Front Street east of the NMC campus. East Bay Park is one of the best parks our city has but it’s not very accessible if you want to walk there. When I was a student at NMC and I had a long break between classes, rather than try to go home or sit inside in a building, I would like to take a walk down to East Bay Park.

From the campus, you can take a sidewalk part of the way down E. Front Street, but at some point it ends and you have to cross the street in order to continue. At that point it’s not too bad, but on the east side of the street it ends again at Wenonah Street. Spend a little time in that area and you will see that when NMC is in session, there is considerable traffic in and out of the college all day long. People are traveling very fast, and often roll or run the stop sign at Wenonah or at College Drive.

A sidewalk and some signs about pedestrians crossing is badly needed to continue to East Bay Park. It would also be nice to have a sidewalk on College Drive so it’s possible to walk from parts of the campus which are closer to the park (such as the apartments or the Becket Building) to the park.

BARLOW STREET SIDEWALKS AND CYCLE LANES

I want to express my disappointment at hearing that the portion of Barlow Street that’s within city limits will be widened and repaved with no plans to install a sidewalk or cycle lanes. I used to live in the mobile home community off of Barlow and during that time I had no car and frequently walked or used my bike to get to destinations within the city and Garfield Township. I can tell you from that experience that walking along Barlow is very dangerous, and becomes more so in winter when the sides of the road are piled with snow. Drivers are already speeding on Barlow Street and widening/repaving the street would probably have the effect of making that worse. If it is widened, the extra width should be given to cycle lanes. For many years Barlow Street has been (and still is) well-travelled by both pedestrians and cyclists and they deserve to have a safer space in which to do that. I hope that the city will work with Garfield Township to put together a plan for sidewalks and cycle lanes on this important street.

CYCLE LANES ON CENTRE, ROSE AND HANNAH

I’d also like to urge you to paint cycle lanes on Centre, Rose and Hannah Streets. A few years ago I used some white duct tape to make a temporary lane on the south side of the Centre Street hill from Bates Street to the eastern most driveway at the apartment complex. During the time it was there, I noticed a huge improvement in driver willingness to stay to the left of the line whether people were present on the street or not. It made a big difference for everyone walking or riding a bike on that hill.

I want to express my disappointment that the lanes painted on Hannah Street are parking lanes. Not just because it’s more dangerous for cyclists, but also because parking lanes don’t work well in this part of the neighbourhood because we have rural mailboxes. If people are parked in the street, the mail truck can’t access our mailboxes to deliver the mail. I think the city needs to rethink what it’s doing with the painting of Hannah Street.

THEFT AND DRUGS IN TRAVERSE HEIGHTS

Another issue I wanted to bring to your attention is an apparent crime and drug wave we are having in the Traverse Heights neighbourhood. People are breaking into cars, garages, stealing things from yards and porches, going through residents’ mailboxes in the wee hours of the morning, fights, and on my walks around the neighbourhood I find needles and syringes lying in the street and on sidewalks. I personally have had my hammock stolen out of the trees in my yard, had my garage broken into and had considerable damage done to my car as they broke into that. My neighbours have reported similar problems. One of them has installed a security system but I don’t have the money for that. Perhaps we need to increase overnight police patrols in this area? What we really need to do is figure out how to get a handle on the drug problem in our community. I think this is likely the root of the theft issues.

Thank you for your attention to these matters.

Maxwell Wolf
City resident