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Tree City USA?

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

I was born in the Emerald City, in the Evergreen State, and I moved to Lake Forest Park ten years ago. If there’s a theme here, it’s that I treasure a natural setting where I live – the lake, forest, and park. I wasn’t the first to move here because of the natural qualities. In fact, Lake Forest Park started as a development for those who wanted to escape the urban setting of Seattle for a more natural setting – in 1909! Developer (and one-time Seattle mayor) Ole Hansen said in his 1912 brochure “Here the laughing waters will forever make gladsome the hearts of the sylvan dwellers”.

The "Military Road" that allowed residents to travel from their Lake Forest Park homes to the city has become Bothell Way, the site of Sound Transit’s bus rapid transit design to widen the highway, remove nearly 400 trees, take portions of over 100 properties, and erect a nearly mile-long concrete wall as high as 16 feet. Urban sprawl has certainly made its way to Lake Forest Park, but a new threat is emerging that has more serious consequences than the disappearing "sylvan" setting – climate change.

Many have cited the consequences of removing the trees and shrubs in favor of concrete: increased noise, increased carbon-dioxide, runoff problems and soil destabilization. But climate change is bringing a new health threat into focus – heat islands.

The conversion of tree canopy to concrete surfaces is creating islands of heat that were previously moderated by nature. In the face of climate change, this is an emerging health hazard. Uncontrolled growth can lead to unlivable communities. The EPA has recently called for action in the face of these risks. And locally, a quote from the August 5, 2023 Seattle Times article (Seattle's growth is heating up the region - literally) says it all:

Around Lake Washington, trees are rapidly being replaced with a growing density of concrete, asphalt and other heat-absorbing surfaces in buildings, roads and other pieces of urban infrastructure. That produces what’s known as an “urban heat island,” and it’s boosting temperatures around the Emerald City by at least 8 degrees Fahrenheit.
About 80% of area residents, even those in verdant, affluent neighborhoods, are now exposed to heat extremes much worse than the city’s rural surroundings, according to a new study by Climate Central, a nonprofit, climate-science research organization.
“Most of the planet is warming due to human-caused climate change, but the built environment in cities amplifies both average temperatures and extreme heat,” the study said.
By a wide margin, heat is the deadliest natural hazard in the U.S., and heat waves are growing hotter, longer and more frequent as climate change progresses, putting children and older adults especially at risk.
Among the 44 cities Climate Central analyzed, Seattle ranks in the top five for increased heat.

Imagine if the 2021 heat wave produced 116-degree temperatures instead of 108! On average, extreme heat leads to the most weather-related deaths in the U.S.

We implore Sound Transit to find a better, cheaper, faster way to design bus rapid transit in Lake Forest Park. One that will preserve our cherished natural setting, keep our residents safe from the worst of climate change, and keep Ole Hansen from turning over in his grave.

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