Inner Harbour tree cut down despite pleas to keep it

A stump is all that’s left of a large birch tree near Victoria’s harbourfront — it was removed Monday amid pleas to save it.

The mature paper birch was cut down to accommodate creation of a two-way protected bike lane and a “scramble” crosswalk.

article continues below

A taped-off triangular greenspace at the intersection of Government and Wharf streets — where the tree seemed to erupt from its concrete surroundings — was covered in wood chips on Monday afternoon.

“I'm speechless and heartbroken,” said Katie Benardo, who led the charge to save the tree. “It was unnecessary to remove it.”

The 37-year-old Vic West resident created a petition signed by about 1,200 people. Signs were erected around the tree — “Humboldt tree, we love you” and “Helps! Save Me!” — and sentimental stories were shared.

“It’s like a space of refuge in the hustle and bustle of the Inner Harbour,” Bernardo said.

Fraser Work, Victoria’s director of engineering and public works, said the tree removal began at about 9:30 a.m. and completed before noon.

A Serbian spruce located in the same area was removed about 10 days earlier.

Heavy machinery was at the site as crews upgraded underground infrastructure — water, storm and sewer pipes — in preparation for the intersection’s new redesign.

A two-way protected bike lane along Wharf and Humboldt streets will link with the Pandora and Fort Street bike lanes and connect to the Galloping Goose via the Johnson Street Bridge.

For pedestrians, a scramble design will halt all vehicle traffic to allow crossing in all directions at the same time.

The tree was partially down when Bernardo was called by a friend: “I actually had tears in my eyes.”

Mariann Burka has requested from the city any documentation relating to discussions about removing the tree.

“Instead of listening, providing us a response or showing us the transparency of your decision, your reply was to destroy this tree in the face of all opposition,” wrote Burka.

Work said the city heard the concerns “loud and clear” and reviewed plans “again and again.” But leaving the tree would mean more problems with traffic congestion, involving buses, touring coaches, automobiles, horse and carriages, bicycles and growing pedestrian traffic.

“That’s a very busy intersection,” said Work. “We have all that coming through that one zone and we have to account for everything. And when you look at it, pedestrian safety — that’s job No. 1.”

“Could something have been done? There’s always something you can do but what’s the price you’re willing to pay,” said Work. “It will make sense when it’s built.”

A group called Trees Matter Network said amid a climate crisis, “there must be an alternative to removing a mature, healthy tree.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who said council made the decision to remove the tree in May 2018 following extensive public consultation, shared memories of the tree, on her website. “I love that tree!” Helps wrote.

“As we say goodbye to this tree in order to create an intersection for people, create a safer space for pedestrians and people riding bikes and plant two more near where it stands — all in order to combat climate change — let’s remember the good times we’ve had.”

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist

Find out what's happening in your community.

Most Popular