Increasingly, the word is coming out that having trees planted along streets makes for safer driving and can reduce car accidents. These conclusions really are not new: a Texas A&M researcher revealed that contrary to the belief that wider streets reduced accidents, the opposite often occurred. Wide-open streets led motorists to speed, causing more crashes. Conversely, tree-lined streets, even if narrow, led drivers to slow down, reducing accidents and facilitating slower driving.
According to a writer at Esurance.com, an online auto insurance provider, tall trees make a street feel narrower, slowing drivers down as they compensate for decreased line of sight and maneuvering. Furthermore, closely spaced trees, cause a perception of enhanced speed, tricking the driver into thinking he is driving much faster than he is in reality. So with reduced accidents come reduced insurance rates.
There is even additional evidence suggesting that small parks can have a calming effect on drivers, thereby reducing the urge to speed and helping them to become more pedestrian-friendly.
Living in Los Angeles, I see plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting all of these ideas. The bane of living in LA is dealing with the congested freeways, so many commuters take city streets. Living in Silver Lake, near downtown, the commute our neighbors and us must take to western Los Angeles, where many Angelinos work, is quite the adventure. Many drive along Beverly Boulevard, but that street during rush hour causes acute hypertension, so the next best shortcut is Melrose Avenue. Melrose can also be a nightmare (and distraction) with all those shoppers at the trendy boutiques, however, so at the risk of receiving nasty-grams, let me reveal my secret: Sixth Avenue.
Sixth Avenue cuts through stately Hancock Park, and is lined with gorgeous trees that provide a canopy, making the drive more enjoyable and soothing. The street often winds and bends, but now that I take Sixth, I rarely experience the tailgating, abrupt lane changes, or other road-rage inducing mishaps that plague other thoroughfares. When I do finally arrive in Century City, Westwood, or Beverly Hills, I feel much calmer than I would if I had taken another route. Let’s just face it: when we drive through a blighted area, we want to rush through it.
It is also no surprise to me that small parks like that of New York’s Greenstreets program has enjoyed a 14-year ride. That is precisely why residents in our neighborhood are building an “urban lounge,” transforming a former 2000 square foot patch of asphalt into green space, adorned with trees and native plants. A v-shaped berm will give the appearance of height as commuters whip around a curve on Silver Lake Boulevard, which we hope will slow drivers at this corner, which is notoriously hazardous for pedestrians.
The traditional reasons for planting trees, however, do remain timeless. They reduce noise, air pollution, absorb exhaust, extend the life of trees and sidewalks, and can even reduce crime. It all makes sense: a neighborhood that looks as if the residents care may give locals a sense of ownership and pride. So keep planting away: your cities need them, and yes, the benefits can extend to your wallet.