Van Ness Improvement Project Moves Forward With Street Tree Removal

Last week, San Francisco Public Works issued a final list of 90 sidewalk trees to be removed as part of the Van Ness Improvement Project, an effort to revitalize aging infrastructure along the corridor.

The final list comes two years after Public Works and the city’s Urban Forester initially tagged 106 street trees—24 percent of the 442 total—for removal along the two-mile stretch of Van Ness Avenue between Lombard and Mission. 

Van Ness Avenue median removal. | Photo: Carrie Sisto/Hoodline

Most of the trees in the avenue’s median have already been removed.

According to SF Public Works, all of the trees tagged for removal were deemed to be in poor health or decay, have injured trunks or limbs that pose public safety concerns, or were prone to damage the sidewalk.

Several tagged trees made way for the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project, but later changes to the planned bus route and re-evaluations of tree health reduced the total removal number to 90 trees.

Data: SF Public Works

In 2014, the city issued guidelines for removing one of the main species tagged for removal—the Indian laurel fig (Ficus microcarpa nitida)—because it doesn’t grow well in San Francisco and is easily damaged by sidewalk repairs.

Because so many have wound up damaged or sick—along with blackwood acacia trees (Acacia melanoxylon)—the city has stopped planting laurel figs as street trees. Those two species make up more than half of the trees that will be removed. 

Once construction is completed, the trees are expected to be replaced. SFMTA intends to plant more than double the current number of street trees along Van Ness.

Full construction on the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project is expected to start in October 2017, but the city and the project's contractor, Walsh Construction, have already started improving infrastructure along the corridor.

Image: SFMTA

As part of the project, SFMTA is replacing 22,000 feet of 1800s-era water main, installing a new sewer system and overhauling the emergency water system supplying 1,200 fire hydrants.

Work on the utility replacements is ongoing and divided up into two segments, moving north to south: the east side of Van Ness from Lombard to Sutter, and the west side from Sutter to Mission. As construction progresses, the city will install more efficient street lights, including sidewalk lighting.

For an idea of what the construction will look like, check out this SFMTA video:

Video: SFMTA

Largely funded through the half-cent sales tax transportation set-aside approved as Proposition K in 2003, the BRT and Van Ness improvements are expected to be complete by 2019.

If interested, residents have until July 20th to appeal Public Work's order for the removal of the 90 trees.

To stay updated about the current status of the project, attend the next community advisory committee meeting on July 24th, or sign up for updates from SFMTA.

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Van ness improvement project moves forward with street tree removal