Landscaping Seattle City Right of Way: a Math Problem

Do you ever drive down a landscaped Seattle street and wonder, “Why don’t they maintain that median?” or, “Wow, I love the landscaping along this road, it really makes the neighborhood.”

In Seattle, there are approximately 123 acres of landscaped public right of way and tree pits—with just 12 gardeners to maintain it all. That means the team must diligently prioritize workload. The number one priority is ensuring these areas are safe and provide accessibility as they were designed. That’s the goal whether the landscaping was installed in the 1960’s, like it was when the 15th Avenue NW and Nickerson Street interchange was being built, or newly installed, as with the Mercer  corridor improvements.

1960 Seattle Municipal Archives photo of Emerson Street Interchange; Nickerson Approach to bridge.

1960 Seattle Municipal Archives photo; Nickerson Approach to bridge.

Mercer Corridor construction and landscaping work in January 2014

Mercer Corridor construction and landscaping work in January 2014

 

The Seattle Department of Transportation Urban Forestry gardeners are well-trained in current professional standards—several are Certified Professional Horticulturists and ISA Certified Arborists. Though the staff is knowledgeable and dedicated, it still comes down to a numbers game. The dozen SDOT Urban Forestry gardeners, supported by two irrigation specialists, are only able to reach about half of the landscaped areas each year for proactive maintenance.

Despite the challenge, the nimble team keeps multiple programs going (click on example photos below, for larger views): mowing for 6-8 months; leaf pick-up every fall; tree pit maintenance; landscape maintenance year-round; planting several hundred streets trees every spring and fall (funded by Bridging the Gap); and accent landscapes work, which is the more labor intensive flower beds featuring perennials and annuals.LANDSCAPE BEFORE & AFTER 021 Picture 0445TH AVE NE PHASE II 003 5TH AVE NE PHASE II 005 16th AVE SW MEDIANS 9.13 005

Some of the maintenance work, which focuses first on arterials, also requires traffic control like the recent work along Harbor Avenue SW (see photos below). The travel lane was shifted to the parking lane for six hours, each of three days last week, to ensure the workers were safe and to meet safety standards set by the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices or MUTCD. From Southwest Spokane Street to Southwest Florida Street, along Harbor Avenue, the team weeded and cut back plants to improve visibility and added mulch to suppress weed growth.HarborAve

 Above: Segment of Harbor Avenue during and after landscape maintenance
(click for larger view)

So far this year SDOT Urban Forestry has recycled over 430 cubic yards of wood chip mulch back into landscapes. This mulch suppresses weeds, conditions the soil, retains soil moisture and reduces the need for herbicides. It’s important maintenance, and it’s needed all over the city.

A volunteer Tree Ambassador recants how history has shaped the trees in Seward Park during a recent Tree Walk.

A volunteer Tree Ambassador recants how history has shaped the trees in Seward Park during a recent ReLeaf Program Tree Walk.

The math starts to work out when volunteers become involved. SDOT relies on the community to help alert us to issues in landscaped areas we are unable to attend to; and on neighborhoods to help with litter pickup, weeding and group work parties. Seattle’s ReLeaf Tree Ambassador Program, a Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Public Utilities joint project, is there to train volunteers who are interested in leading landscape maintenance events in their neighborhoods.

Recently, a volunteer group organized by the Tree Ambassador Program, helped weed and mulch over 25 tree pits along Martin Luther King Jr Way near the Rainier Beach Transit Station. On August 9, a group of 16 volunteers working at N 46th Street and Aurora Avenue N (pictured below), removed 10 bags of garbage and 5 yards of weeds; freed 4 large conifers from strangling ivy; and laid down fresh mulch.

RainierVounteers

Volunteers gathered at N 46th St and Aurora Ave N to address maintenance needs

 

Similar work took place again this past weekend, on August 16, on Beacon Hill at Beacon Avenue S and 15th Avenue S. Want to be part of the equation? Add to the crew and make a winning solution this Saturday, August 23, in Rainier Beach:

RainierVounteer

When volunteers join forces with the dedicated gardener dozen, and the irrigation specialists give the plantings what they need to survive—the City starts to look pretty vibrant.

If you like solving math problems, help us solve for X:

(12 Gardeners) + (2 Irrigation Specialiats) + (X Volunteers) = 123 well-kept acres

Want to get your number in the game?

Thank you Seattle!