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August 1, 2011

Trees cut downtown to give race fans better view

More than 100 trees are coming down in downtown Baltimore so spectators at the Grand Prix race on Labor Day weekend can get better views of cars speeding through the streets.  (UPDATE: City official says no more than 50 trees to be removed, with nearly 200 to be planted in compensation.  See later post here.)

The Baltimore Sun reports that trees are being removed along West Pratt Street, at the Inner Harbor and near Camden Yards. The first few fell to chainsaws Monday across from the Convention Center.

A total of 136 trees are to be cut down, but race organizers plan to replant them (plus three extras, apparently) - a cycle they'll evidently repeat every year for the next four, under the deal the city has to host the Grand Prix through 2015.

Baltimore Racing Development, the company running the three-day event, worked out the tree removal and replacement plan with the city's Office of Sustainability, the Downtown Partnership and the Waterfront Partnership, according to the Sun. 

For what it's worth, the city's sustainability plan calls for doubling Baltimore's meager tree canopy, from 20 percent of the urban landscape to 40 percent by 2037.  Guess this won't exactly be backsliding if the whacked trees get replaced every year, but not exactly progress, either. 

(Trees being removed across from Convention Center.  Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:58 PM | | Comments (17)


What an abomination of nature.

Shocking! Baltimore is part of the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research Network.

The trees in the above photograph look quite large. Will similar sized trees be replanted? It is not just the number of trees that are lost but the many ecological, economic, and social benefits they provided.

Looking at the size of the trees, it looks like it will be 30-40 years until replacement trees are that large. Or are they planting full size replacement trees?

Trees are one of the natural converters of CO2 to Oxygen. What will be used to deal with the exhaust of the Grand Prix racers?

This is just plain bad. Who is allowing this?

If you look at a Google street view of those particular trees pictured, you can see that many of those trees were visibly unhealthy to begin with. Lots of dieback, thick trunks with relatively small canopy, etc. A healthy, young tree that is well planted will grow better and produce more oxygen. If it's done correctly, with very large "pots", good soil, and appropriate species of trees in them, this should actually be healthier and more attractive, long term.

Who in the Office of Sustainability is responsible for this pathetic compromise? Remove 136 mature trees from the waterfront, which is already terribly paved over end-to-end, and replace with what exactly? If the Office of Sustainability and the Mayor actually cared enough to maintain their environmental credibility with the public, they could have at least negotiated a conventionally-scaled mitigation project or a comparable donation to City tree planting efforts. Maybe Labor Day weekend will be the worst scorcher all summer long, and spectators will complain to City gov't for lack of tree shade. So sorry to see more wasted tax dollars, sacrifice of natural resources for ~24 hours worth of tourism, and more unnecessary tarnish to our City's green reputation.

I am an avid race fan as well as ecologically minded.

The fact is, the Indycar series has a marginal reputation for staging successful street races….short of Long Beach which recently has seen diminished attendance.

The race series has no great sponsorship revenue, nor do they have a strong television package and their events are lightly attended.

This is a bust for Baltimore. I am sure someone from the race series will tell me why I am wrong. But, a canopy of mature trees would last 10X the lifetime of the Baltimore grand prix race.

Absolutely disgusting. Baltimore isn't ugly enough, let's take away the little natural beauty the city does have. Anything to chase the almighty dollar. Hope voters remember this around election time.

Since clearly concern for the environment does not move Mayor Rawlings-Blake and her cronies, I will simply comment that this tree-chopping insult added to injury was a huge public relations miscalculation by the administration. The pictures of dead tree stumps all over downtown have gone viral all over Facebook and other social media sites and are generating ridicule for our city as well as outrage from citizens. If the mayor loses the upcoming election, which I pray she will, she may very well owe it not to traffic jams, police corruption or the fiascos with planned megadevelopments, but to these images of chopped off tree trunks that will now be part of her lasting legacy.

Boo! Shame on the city for doing this. What message does it send that you launch a campaign to increase the tree canopy only to now chop them down? Oh wait, I belive that was the previous administration that ran that campaign. This administration clearly doesn't have ecological principles.

P.S. There is a lot of talk about this on Facebook, and people are not happy.

This is unbelievable and unconscionable! Ironically, there are cities that have decided to plant trees because of scientific studies that prove that tree-line streets have a "calming effect" on vehicle traffic, helping to slow down drivers who speed. I wouldn't doubt that a negative result of Baltimore city's action will be there will be more people & animals killed on city streets as a result of people driving faster all the time on stripped naked streets where mature street once "calmed" the average reckless driver. Shame on the city of Baltimore! Once again America's obsession with sports has dealt nature, common sense and sane government practices a heavy blow.

Am I getting this right? They will replace the trees after the Grand Prix, but then cut them down the following September, and then repeat?

I understand that some of the trees will be in large planters so they can be moved, but I don't see how the rest of it works.

TW: Partly right. Of the 59 trees being replanted along the race corridor, 14 will be in pots, and 18 others being planted in tree pits will have to be removed every year to make way for grandstands. Those 18 are to be dug up and transplanted to other spots around the city, according to Steve Kelly of Mahan Rykiel.

I can’t even get into the numerous environmental and public health and safety offenses this will cause. I will keep it simple. As a tax-paying constituent, I want to see the numbers. In fact, I demand it. What is the cost breakdown? Is there a revenue stream besides our City and State taxes? How much does it cost to remove a tree? What is the cost of materials and labor to plant the “new” tree? What will it cost to water all these new trees?
They need a minimum of five gallons per week (excluding winter) for the first few years. The mature trees that our brilliant leadership decided to cut down do not. Who pays for the water? What will it cost? Oh, I guess our water bills will see an increase. That’s probably how they will subsidize it.
I have had it with elected officials touting one thing and doing the opposite. This is absurd. It is depressing that our existing City assets are so easily sacrificed for the mere hope of increasing short-term tourism.
I demand to see the financial analysis that calculates the projected (based on reality, not BS) ROI expected for doing this ridiculous act. I want to know why this is a fiscally responsible decision and I want to see proof that this does not waste our tax dollars…and don’t try to play with the numbers. I know from experience that removing and planting trees is not cheap. I had to secure thousands in funds to facilitate tree plantings on my block.

Remember, also, that this will happen again and again, over the life of the contract for staging the race in Baltimore. How many other "obstacles" will need to be removed or altered over the course of this contract?

Unfortunately, this story is filled with inaccurate information. There are 47 trees being removed prior to the Grand Prix, only three of which are of mature caliper (those seen being cut down in the picture). The other 44 were planted within the last five years, 50% of them within the last two years. The trees are required to be replaced, caliper for caliper and a total of 136 trees are being planted after the race... in the places where they were removed and in all of the empty tree pits in the Central Business District. I hope this helps to get the accurate story out in the open.

TW: The information in this story was subsequently updated and/or corrected (it's still not clear why the Grand Prix official quoted mentioned 136 - he's not taken or returned calls since) - and updated yet again on Friday. And the city announced then that only 31 trees had been removed, and that officials had decided no more needed to come out.
Here's the latest:,0,1888764.story

Meanwhile, the number to be planted downtown grew to 139, and the Grand Prix even topped that by pledging to pay for 5,000 more saplings that the city could plant where it wishes.

I won't rehash here what's been said repeatedly elsewhere, but if you want to stay up to speed, please check out

Also, please sign the petition here:

Lastly, the real concern is the viability of the race at all. Pledges to buy saplings or plant 139 trees are meaningless unless there is a viable plan for paying for their planting and subsequent maintenance and watering. This is a cost that Baltimore City DPW or DOT cannot simply "absorb" and we demand that monies be put aside to ensure that these trees are cared for.

@David Troy said:
"...up to speed..." Too funny!

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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