Those Damned Pretty Trees

I live in a nice middle-class neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky called Crescent Hill. The main drag through Crescent Hill is Frankfort Avenue. Frankfort Avenue is actually US Highway 60 and runs between Louisville and Kentucky's capitol, Frankfort. It was once a main stage coach line and it is lined with 100+ year old historic homes and businesses. 

In my neighborhood, beautiful old homes line the south side of Frankfort Avenue and the CSX (formerly Louisville and Nashville) railroad runs along the north side. On the residential side, the homes have large, well-kept lawns bordered by limestone curbing and in some cases, walls. Between the lawns and the street there is a nice sidewalk and then a grassy strip before you get to the limestone street curb. Street lights are plentiful. On the railroad side, there is a considerable grassy buffer between the street and the railroad tracks.

It's the kind of nice neighborhood where everybody gets out and walks, or jogs. Several small local businesses operate along Frankfort Avenue and people often walk to the store or restaurant rather than drive. Because the historic Kentucky School For The Blind is located here, we have a lot of blind area residents.

The trees: As anyone who has ever been to Kentucky knows, we have an abundance of trees. This is a good thing. Giant, ancient oaks, walnuts, and maples are everywhere. Several years ago some of our local "leaders" apparently drove up Frankfort Avenue and thought "Wouldn't it be pretty if the street was lined with trees". The next thing we (the residents) knew, the city was planting trees every few feet in the narrow grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street. By narrow I mean only a foot or two wide! 

This was a classic case of a would-be do-gooders imposing their tastes on others. They thought this would be "pretty" without any consideration of the consequences. The trees do look nice when driving up the street. However, for the pedestrians and residents it is a different story.

  • The trees quickly took root and have grown up into the electrical, telephone, and cable TV wires overhead. 
  • They hang out into the roadway where trucks and busses have sheared off imposing branches given the trees a lopsided look. 
  • Branches hang over the sidewalk where pedestrians have to constantly duck them to avoid getting poked in the eye or slapped in the face. As you can imagine, this is even more of a hazard for the many blind residents of the area. 
  • Branches, berries, sap, and mulch now litter the sidewalk and street. 
  • Dogs can't resist urinating on, and defecating around, them. 
  • The streetside grassy strip is no longer manicured as it once was because it's just too much trouble to maneuver a lawn mower around all of the trees.
  • Roots are growing under, and breaking up, sidewalks and century-old limestone curbs.
  • The streetlights do a wonderful job of lighting the tops of threes but the light can longer penetrate to the sidewalk. What was a welcoming well-lit sidewalk used by many, even late at night, is now an imposing, shadowy walkway where you wonder who might be lurking in the shadows.
  • When entering Frankfort Avenue from side streets, your view of oncoming traffic is now blocked by the trees.
  • In blocks that did not have the streetside grassy strip, they actually dug out squares and planted trees right in the sidewalk effectively reducing by half the pedestrian right of way. Two (ducking) walkers can hardly pass each other in some locations.

But, they are pretty when the do-gooders drive down the street (that they don't live on) and say "Look what a wonderful thing I did for this neighborhood". Of course, anyone with any common sense would have planted all of those trees along the North side of the street, where the railroad tracks are. There are no sidewalks, thus no pedestrian traffic (except dog walkers too lazy to pick up after their dogs) on that side of the street. The trees would even have helped to hide and buffer the noise of the frequent freight trains. We would still have wide, well-lit, unimpeded walkways on the business and residential side.

Alas, common sense, where for art thou? Certainly not in neighborhood planning.

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