City pauses Pike Street logging project: Cherry Trees 1, Chainsaws 0

Mar 8, 2023, 11:28 AM
cherry trees...
The Pike Street cherry trees were spared by Mayor Bruce Harrell and Waterfront Seattle in order to gather more community input. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)
(Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

The City of Seattle has hit the pause button on the removal of the linear grove of Pike Street cherry trees.

“The removal of the cherry trees has been temporarily postponed to listen to the perspective of community members and to fully consider their concerns,” a spokesperson for the Office of the Waterfront and Civic Projects wrote Tuesday in an email to KIRO Newsradio.

The spokesperson later confirmed for KIRO Newsradio that Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office was involved in the decision.

Removal of Pike Street cherry trees on pause after community feedback

“The Office of the Waterfront, in collaboration with the mayor’s office, made the decision to delay the removal of the trees,” the spokesperson wrote. “We are going to be meeting with a handful of stakeholders in the next couple of days to listen further to their comments prior to advancing our work.”

Members of Save the Market Entrance, a community group that has been advocating for the preservation of the trees for years and had asked Mayor Harrell for a “stay of execution,” were understandably pleased by Tuesday’s announcement.

“We are so grateful to Mayor Bruce Harrell for looking carefully at what can be done,” said Save The Market Entrance president Ruth Danner when reached by phone by KIRO Newsradio as the news broke. “And we appreciate Councilmember Lewis for getting involved.”

KIRO Newsradio reached out to Harrell and to Councilmember Andrew Lewis – whose district includes the Pike Street block where the cherry trees have stood for more than 40 years – for comment on Tuesday afternoon. The mayor’s spokesperson said Harrell was not available, and did not respond to a subsequent request for a written statement on the decision to hold off on removing the trees.

Councilmember Lewis declined to be interviewed. Waterfront Seattle had said as recently as Monday that a public process had already been conducted in order to decide, among other things, the future of the cherry trees. It’s unclear why Mayor Harrell believed additional process was necessary.

In a strange, only-in-Seattle twist, Harrell and Councilmember Dan Strauss announced a project and proposed legislation to preserve and increase the tree canopy in Seattle on Tuesday. If the cherry trees hadn’t been spared, that would’ve made a very odd split-screen moment – on one side, city leaders expounding on the value of preserving and increasing the number of trees in Seattle, on the other, chainsaws chewing up cherry trees on Pike Street. There’s no mention of the cherry trees in the press release about the new initiative.

As to what comes next, Councilmember Lewis is reportedly convening a meeting Wednesday morning, including members of Save The Market Entrance and staff and consultants for the Office of Waterfront and Civic Projects, also known as Waterfront Seattle.

It’s unclear if members of the general public will have a chance to weigh in on the future of the cherry trees. KIRO Newsradio requested an interview with Waterfront Seattle on Tuesday afternoon, but as of Wednesday morning, there has been no response.

KIRO Newsradio’s earlier story on Monday reported that Pike Street between First and Second Avenue is being redeveloped to create additional bike lanes and wider sidewalks. There’s some confusion over this aspect of the story, especially what the new design of that Pike Street block includes. Several commenters on social media and bloggers stated the bike lanes are actually going away, and that Pike Street in that block will be more of a combined space for vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians, like the “curbless street” design of Bell Street between First and Second Avenue.

As long as the cherry trees stay, Ruth Danner of Save the Market Entrance isn’t too worried about those specifics.

“You know, the city can figure out whatever they want to do with the bikes and the cars, and I know that they can do it,” Danner said on Tuesday. “I have great faith in their ability to make a good plan, but they have to consider the Japanese cherry trees and making that plan, and they ought to be able to figure out how to fit all the rest of us in and around the trees.”

And if they are allowed to stay, author and Seattle tree expert Arthur Lee Jacobson said the cherry trees on Pike Street have decades of life left in them — though any urban tree needs tender loving care in order to live a long and healthy life.

“Replacing cherry trees with elm trees would make a change, but not necessarily an improvement,” Jacobson wrote in an email early Wednesday. “Elms grow larger than cherry trees, and hence are that much more stately appearing, and can produce more shade. But in a constrained space, such as on Pike Street, there is too little room for a large tree. And the compacted, poor soil, plus limited space and little watering in summer, means that even small trees, such as cherries, work hard to survive.”

Jacobson, who’s known for being as knowledgeable about trees as he is irascible, clearly thinks the Pike Street cherry trees are worth the trouble.

All Over The Map: Where there’s a will, there’s a Whidbey

“Since the cherry trees are beloved, and money can be raised to give them supplemental care over the benign neglect they have been getting in recent years,” Jacobson wrote, “it is certain that they should be retained, probable that not doing the elm tree replacement as planned would save taxpayer money, and maybe can serve as a symbol that local folks banding together can do a better job than urban planners.”

“The planners in their towers propose to chop down the cherry trees and build back better with elms,” Jacobson continued. “The locals reply, ‘No, thanks. We resist this great reset, as it is not needed, harmful and costly.’ ”

“ ‘We will tend our cherry trees,’ ” Jacobson concluded. “ ‘Go bug someone else.’ ”

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.

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City pauses Pike Street logging project: Cherry Trees 1, Chainsaws 0