Panhandle trees looking east from Masonic Avenue
Image: SF Planning Department, SF Municipal Transportation Agency
The Masonic corridor will become a linear forest with 200 additional street trees if the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) proceeds with the Boulevard design proposal. What do 200 trees look like? Imagine the east end of Panhandle Park, starting at Masonic Avenue and continuing east along the north or south trail. Strollers will be in the midst of the 100-year-old Eucalyptus trees, the redwoods, and cypress as they walk toward Central Avenue, then to Lyon Street, and finally to Baker Street at the McKinley Monument. How many trees stand in that large and lush green space three blocks long and a block wide? About 200. Consider transplanting that urban forest to a new landscaped median for the eight Masonic blocks between Fell and Geary. Step back and appreciate how a loud speedway gets transformed into a smooth travelling roadway that is greener, calmer and an antidote to air and noise pollution.
Of course the new Masonic median will not feature enormous 100 year old Eucalyptus trees of the kind that tower in the Panhandle. Instead, young trees of various types will define this new urban forest. Shrubs and grasses, pebbles and boulders will contribute to the mix. The street trees and the landscaping alone -- just one element of the Boulevard design -- will transform Masonic, much as the re-designed Divisadero now looks greener, more attractive and more to scale as a neighborhood thoroughfare.
Street trees function as more than a green softening of the urban environment. A less prosaic notion touted by green advocates is to think of them as "carbon sinks," living organisms that drain carbon dioxide from the air. One tree might remove a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere every year, depending on the size and age of the tree, the amount of pollution, and the length of the leafy season. But even a 1/2 ton removal is impressive.
Critics may argue that a re-designed Masonic will result in more traffic congestion with more frequent stop-and-go vehicles spewing more pollution than while speeding along, but the SFMTA has studied that possibility and thinks that won't be the case. BIKE NOPA will look at the concerns about congestion in an upcoming article. For now, 200 more trees -- equivalent to that half of the Panhandle's forest -- makes a persuasive argument for a better Masonic.
Check here for more stories in the A Better Masonic series.