Anyone who has ever tried to walk down a classic tree shaded avenue, has probably cursed the very trees that make the location so appealing in the first place. Tree roots and sidewalks are natural enemies. As the trees grow, the roots do too, leading to cracks and ridges in more modern paving surfaces, and whole root islands in older ones.
The placement of trees in the sidewalk (as a little square of life surrounded by pavement) has been one of my pet peeves for years. I don't know if it's common in other parts of the country, but it's ubiquitous in New England. I love trees, their prevalence is one of the reasons I moved to this town, but trees in the sidewalk make it incredibly awkward to walk side-by-side and talk. Have you ever done the 'round the tree two-step?
It goes like this:
- stop in place,
- let your partner by,
- follow quickly,
- return beside
- ask "What did you say?"
Add a few low hanging branches to duck below, and the conversation becomes a full body workout.
Clearly trees + sidewalks = hazard, damage, nuisance and expense. Right?
While I still can't understand why towns plant trees in places that are clearly going to cause damage and expense in the not so distant future, trees set just a little farther back from the sidewalk actually provide a lot of benefit. I read this summer that Lexington was looking for homeowners who would allow the town to plant trees in their yards "beyond the Town right-of-way but no more than 20 feet from the front of the property" (Lexington's Colonial Times July/August). While some tree benefits (aesthetic beauty, creating oxygen) are obvious, there are others I'd never considered.
- Trees reduce skin cancer if planted in places where people spend a lot of time outside. This is really just another way of saying that shade is better for your skin than direct sun, but it goes on to say "Trees absorb up to 90 percent of UV radiation, providing a natural form of sunscreen - an equivalent to SPF 10-20."
- Help avoid erosion and reduce storm runoff.
- Trees planted around parking lots "reduce automobile hydrocarbon emissions by 2 percent".
- And the one I found the most surprising - the shade trees provide actually extends the life of paved roads. "Repaving can be deferred 10 years or more for heavily shaded streets."
When it's put that way, I just don't feel right complaining about some exposed roots and low hanging branches. I'm probably better off with one less pet peeve.