Spare the Tree, Cut Down the Litigation
A reader recently alerted me to yet another “trees and traffic” saga, this time in Sag Harbor, NY. Briefly, a 100-year-old black oak, beloved by neighborhood residents, was cut down after being struck by drivers in two separate incidents (one involving a rollover).
Now, it turns out the tree’s core had rotted, but what’s important here is that before this was even known, the ax was coming — because the tree, which had lasted virtually the entire history of automobile-dom, was viewed as a traffic hazard. Being generally of the mind that traffic is the hazard, I always view these claims with suspicion. This was a street marked for 25 mph. Assuming you were driving the proper speed and paying attention, how do you a.) strike something as large and obvious as a tree and b.) roll over your vehicle? (Any crash reconstructionists reading? I beg for elucidation). Trying to eliminate every potential physical hazard from the landscape to cater to some vision of crash-free driving forgets that the greatest source of risk comes from the driver himself.
Which is not to say nothing should have or could have been done; town officials claimed that a “bulb-out” or some other measure meant to wrap the road around the tree would cause the road to be too “narrow.” Too narrow according to some blanket set of prescriptions that take no heed of things like local character — and for what it’s worth, I’ve yet to see a road in the U.S. that could be described as “too narrow.” Narrow roads, moreover, are good for neighborhoods. The sad truth is the town was, perhaps rightly, more worried about litigation. And so yet another distinctive bit of the landscape was meant to be sacrificed to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, with greater safety — unless, that is, another driver weaves across the road into your path. Do you then eliminate the other lane of traffic?
The Sag Harbor Express had this to say:
“What unnerves us about this situation specifically is there appears to be a willingness on the village’s behalf to remove this tree not because it is dying, but because it appears to be a hazard due to its location in the roadway. We understand it is the village’s responsibility to protect its residents from facing untold amounts of liability as well as hazardous conditions, we are not convinced every avenue has been explored in this scenario.
We encourage the village to look at ways to keep this oak, if it is in fact a viable tree, through planning or engineering as is often done in communities committed to historic street trees that often, in their quirky way, stick out into roadways that were designed around them in the first place.
In a time where we are seeking to protect the character of our community with every tool we have, we would like to see the same initiative used on behalf of village officials in this case.
We do live in a litigious society, as Sag Harbor officials well know, dealing with a number of lawsuits over the last decade brought by people who did not have the foresight to watch their own step. We bemoan the fact that people across the country do not seem able to take responsibility for their own actions any more, rather placing the blame on someone else’s shoulders for their own errors. However, we would hate to see the village allow itself to be victimized by these very people and begin what we see as allowing that fear of litigation, in part, dictate what we deem worthy of protection.”
This entry was posted on Friday, December 5th, 2008 at 9:00 am and is filed under Cars, Drivers, Risk, Roads, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.