By Chris Hung
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
On Feb. 2, every member of the Meridian Township board agreed to pass Zoning Amendment 15080. This revision to the existing street tree ordinance will see the addition of more trees on the sides of many major roads in the township, as well as ensure the preservation of existing street trees.
One purpose of this zoning amendment is to reduce traffic speeds on some major roads, without changing the speed limit.
“The goal is to make the roads safer by calming and reducing traffic speeds,” said Director of Community Planning and Development Mark Kieselbach. “Putting things closer to the street, like buildings, benches, and trees make it so people don’t feel as comfortable going too fast.”
Preserving the township’s natural beauty and providing natural air purification come as part of the package as well.
In addition to adding natural color to the streets of Meridian Township, there are other benefits to the planting of even just a few street trees, both economically and to the general health of the community and its ecosystem.
“An urban tree’s value goes way beyond aesthetic,” said Steve Nix, an expert in forestry. “They significantly reduce noise and light pollution, they are pollutant scrubbers for carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.”
According to a study done by Dan Burden, the director and co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, the presence of street trees is an integral component to all sustainable communities. They can absorb up to nine times more pollutants than trees further away from the street. Street trees effectively absorb unwanted greenhouse emissions from car exhaust, and turn it into beneficial and clean oxygen.
A scientific report published by Nature in 2015, concludes that even the addition of a few street trees, are independently and significantly responsible for improved health conditions in urban environments, while being highly cost efficient. The study also found that the healthier conditions of having even just 11 more trees on a city block can roughly equate to being, on average, 1.4 years younger in the area.
Though there is a degree of variability, the cost of each new tree being planted and maintained is estimated to be around $250, explained Kieselbach. In a single tree’s projected lifetime, it could return up to $90,000 in benefits for the community. These benefits come in the form of temperature control from the tree’s shade, to even improving pavement health, when managed properly.
The amendment to the zoning ordinance follows Meridian Township’s 2015 goal to sustain and enhance the environment. The new trees planted will be deciduous and two inches in diameter, and at least five feet from the curb to ensure proper visibility for motorists and pedestrians. The amendment will guarantee a replacement of a new tree, should they die within two years of planting.