Nearly a quarter of the trees in Helena’s old boulevard districts could disappear because of the city’s new interpretation of existing city ordinance. That ordinance governs how trees are planted in front of houses near intersections. As the old trees die, many will not be replaced because of this recent change in enforcement. Supposedly it’s about safety. We have accident data from the Montana Department of Transportation that could suggest otherwise.

Last January we wrote to the mayor and the city manager, stating our concern about how and where the city will replace dying boulevard trees. We offered to partner on a study of trees and traffic safety. We never got a reply, even though we contacted the city repeatedly. The only result so far is this change in enforcement.

We wish they would look at MDT’s data. Maps we had made are at growingfriends.org. One shows injury accidents on local streets; the other, collisions with fixed objects. It’s not obvious the accident rate on streets with boulevard trees differs from the rate on those without. The collision data seem clearer: trees look less accident-prone than utility poles and traffic signals. These maps aren’t definitive, but we hope they make people curious.

We’re just volunteer tree planters, not professional data analysts. That’s why we suggested some kind of joint study. Growing Friends has worked with city staff planting trees and we know they too want to improve our boulevard districts. Let’s work together to figure out solutions based on what really happens on Helena streets.

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Board of Growing Friends of Helena

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