Walkers one, dogs zero.
City crews have completed a pilot project in the 600 block of Massachusetts Street designed to give walkers more room to maneuver on downtown sidewalks by removing the small cement curbs that surround trees.
"Those miniplanters were probably a good idea as a concept, but as a practical matter, you couldn't grow anything in them, they were trampled upon and they seemed to be used as a restroom by every dog in the area," said City Commissioner David Schauner.
So, Schauner, several months ago, proposed a project to test the effectiveness of "tree grates." The tree grates are slotted, metal plates that surround the base of the tree. Their main advantage is they're flush with the sidewalk, unlike the planters, which extended above the sidewalk about 6 to 8 inches.
The flush surface allows pedestrians to again use that part of the sidewalk, adding 2 to 3 feet of walkable space.
"I think these will provide better use of our sidewalks," Schauner said. "A sidewalk really should be designed for people to walk on."
The tree grates also keep all the soil below the surface of the plate, which eliminates the piles of dirt and mulch that had become attractive targets of canine visitors.
City crews last week removed two of the tree planters on the east side of the 600 block of Massachusetts Street and replaced them with the tree grates.
Mark Hecker, parks superintendent for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said the grates appeared to have promise.
"With the evolution of outdoor dining in downtown, we do have more businesses that are taking up some of the sidewalk space," Hecker said. "This will help that."
But if the city wants to replace all of the tree planters with the grates, it will be a major undertaking. Hecker said the city paid $1,100 apiece for the two tree grates. The city has 300 to 400 trees in the downtown area that could be candidates for the grates.
"It would be a pretty substantial investment if you wanted to do all of it, and it would be a major construction project," Hecker said.
More about the sidewalks
Schauner, though, said there's no need for the city to undertake a major project. He said the city should just spend $10,000 to $15,000 at a time and allow city crews to install the grates as their schedules permit.
The tree grates wouldn't require the removal of any of the larger planters at the corners or near crosswalks. Those planters hold trees and flowers. The city this year started a new beautification program designed to add more year-round color to those planters. The city also has plans this fall to replace about 15 trees that have been cut down in the downtown area because of disease.