The downtown tree removal for the Grand Prix was nothing, compared with what the city is doing now along Charles Street by the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus. Yet only a few voices have been raised in protest.
Dozens of trees have been shorn of their leaves and limbs, and nearly 200 in all are apparently slated to come down in phases over the next year or so from 25th Street north to University Parkway. It'll be a whole new, open look for a particularly leafy stretch, at least until recently, of a corridor that has been designated a National Scenic Byway.
It's all part of a long-planned, $28 million "reconstruction and beautification project," which as the city's website says, is intended to make the street "safer, greener and more connected."
Safety is the leading reason given for the street's extreme makeover. Thousands of Hopkins students and faculty and others cross Charles daily, often jaywalking, according to decade-old traffic study, and 14 pedestrians got hit in a four-year timespan back then.
The street is to be reconfigured to make it safer to cross, but it will also get widened to handle bike lanes, parking and all the vehicles that pour through there, while also somehow slowing the speed of passing traffic, according to presentations made to the community.
But the project is also about upgrading aging gas and other utility lines under the street, improving signage along the corridor, "business revitalization" and making the street "more aesthetically pleasing." A PowerPoint presentation given to a community meeting includes an unidentified quote that "the old streetbed and landscaping looks very tired and worn out."
So to make it look fresh and new, a total of 190 trees are to be removed for the project, many of them in the medians that now break up the street and are also being removed. The plan calls for planting 272 new trees in their stead, officials point out.
"We realize it may not be pleasing to look at, but the trees will be removed and new ones will be planted," Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes told the Baltimore Messenger.
The reaction to the tree "scalping" that began last month has been muted, at least until now. I heard recently from one area resident, Dale Beran, who'd somehow missed word of the project until now and was upset to see the shorn trees. He wasn't mollified after he took a look for the first time at the makeover plans.
"When you look at them closely, you can see that what is actually happening is a road widening," Beran wrote, adding later that "all I see on every page is a century old Victorian street layout trimmed or flattened to make room for car turn lanes and wider roads."
The only exception is at the entrance to the Homewood campus, he says, where the plan calls for "an enormous traffic circle/cross walk will presumably halt traffic for students walking to and fro from the Hopkins dorms." More trees will be planted, but it will take years for them to grow as large and leafy as their predecessors, he laments.
"Perhaps I am the only one that finds these plans objectionable," Beran concludes, "but to me, the city is being deeply disingenuous as to what it is trying to accomplish. I am particularly offended by the idea that they are 'enhancing' the 'character' of the neighborhood by annihilating the broad 19th century mall-style concourse and its hundreds of trees and replacing it with an enormous Towson-style traffic circle."
He's no longer alone, it seems. The Messenger's Larry Perl reports that Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke was stunned to see the rows of denuded trunks and questioned the plan. She told Perl she was sure the city forester wasn't consulted on this plan.
But Erike Dihle, the city forester, told me "it's unfortunate but necessary" to take out the trees.
"They're literally changing the hardscape signficantly, and it involves unfortunately the removal of a number of trees in order for the hardscape to go in place." Dihle noted that more trees are to be planted than are destined to be cut down, but he acknowledged the sight of so many denuded trees and stumps in a city struggling to boost its tree canopy is "very dramatic."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun