Vancouver plans to remove hazardous West End trees after 2 fell within weeks of each other

After two trees toppled within weeks of each other, the City of Vancouver is planning to remove and replace several trees lining a West End street. 

The trees were of the catalpa species and were located on the same block of Nelson Street, between Gilford and Denman streets. Nobody was hurt in either incident. 

The first tree fell onto the road on a mid-September afternoon with no damage to property. A couple of weeks later, a large tree fell around 4:30 a.m., crushing two cars and smashing a window at 1895 Nelson Street.

Vancouver’s arborist and supervisor of urban forestry Joe McLeod said the plan is to remove and replace the trees within the next three to four months. 

While people have speculated that this summer’s heat waves and subsequent stormy weather in September had to do with the tree toppling, McLeod noted there are several factors at play. Tree roots in urban environments are often constrained by underground objects and are sometimes not substantial enough to hold the tree as it grows. 

The trees lining Nelson Street were planted several decades ago. McLeod said a preliminary assessment revealed that some of the trees had decay. 

Concerned residents

Elaine Smith, who has lived at Gilford and Nelson for 12 years, said she is concerned for her safety after the two incidents. 

“When I walk down here I’m looking to see where the next one’s coming.”

Mark Ainley has lived at the same intersection for around 15 years. He said it was extremely lucky nobody was hurt during the first incident, considering it happened in the afternoon.

“The fact that there was nobody walking by and nobody driving by I think was an incredible stroke of luck.” 

Ainley added that a falling tree would be a major concern for people who are unable to move quickly, particularly seniors and people who use wheelchairs. 

Although Ainley emphasized safety should be the top priority, he said he would love to see the trees stay if possible. 

Safety first

McLeod said that because trees have a similar lifespan to humans, people often develop an emotional attachment to the trees in their community. Because of this, there is usually significant opposition to tree removals. 

“While I know a lot of people may not want the trees to be removed, we have to put public safety first and foremost here.” 

Resident Corrie Bownick believes there will be a lot of pushback to removing the trees. She said she misses the trees that have fallen so far, particularly the one that shaded her window. 

“Part of the beauty of the West End is all these big, beautiful trees.”

However, Bownick added that she and other residents are worried about the trees falling, and preemptive removal might be necessary. 

Since 2016, four trees of the same species on the same block have fallen. One fell in 2016 and another in 2019

The city has removed two trees already due to safety concerns. There are seven remaining catalpa trees on the block. 

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