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Bike thief beheads young tree

Many thanks to Elliott Wright of Canopy, Palo Alto's urban forest nonprofit, for sharing this article on the link between (inadequate) bicycle parking and tree health. This article was originally published as "Young Tree Cut-down by Bike Thief" in the Canopy e-newsletter dated July 27, 2010.  All images courtesy of

Palo Alto Weekly staff members came to work on Thursday last week to discover that a beautiful young tree had been destroyed in front of their office.

The tree -- a Chinese Pistache -- was cut-down by a thief interested in a bicycle that was locked to the tree. The bike was owned by an intern at the Palo Alto Weekly offices. An article was published and the bike is remains missing.

The link between bikes and trees

The negative practice of locking bikes to trees is common on Palo Alto streets such as California and University Avenue.

Locking bikes directly to trees and/or tree-stakes causes direct harm to trees. Young trees have a very thin layer of bark protection over their vascular living tissue. Cuts and bruises can seriously interrupt transport of water and nutrients and expose the tree to infection by pests and diseases.

Canopy encourages the use of bicycles as a form of sustainable, efficient, and healthy transportation, but we want cyclists to use their best judgment when they secure their bicycles with chains, locks, and bars. These implements are very damaging on the young bark of trees, and have a tendency to injure or even kill young trees.

Plans for new bike racks ongoing

As more and more people discover the benefits of cycling, available bike parking become scarce -- and trees are paying the price.

In 2003, the City of Palo Alto finalized a Bike Transportation Master Plan with a report on existing and future bike parking. As a result of this report, and in concert with other long-term plans, The City is working to renew the bike parking on California Avenue.

Design inspiration happens to be just down the street. Architect Joseph Bellomo and Palo Alto Bicycles Owner Jeff Seltzer partnered to create a demonstration that can be seen at 116 University Ave. Their company - Bike Arc - has produced modular bike park systems specifically to protect trees, provide pedestrians with sidewalk access, and accommodate cyclists with easy parking.

Canopy encourages plentiful bike parking, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, and ample tree protection in the redesign of bike parking on California Avenue. Canopy also recognizes the need for simple and cost-effective bike locks, but strongly recommends that we not forget to protect the livelihood of our trees.

In the meantime, police are still seeking leads on the bicycle thief who cut-down the tree.

Elliott Wright, development director of Canopy, holds a degree in Environmental Studies (Conservation Biology) and History from Bowdoin College. Before working for Canopy, Elliott was Event Manager for Acterra's 40th Anniversary Party, Development Associate for Sempervirens Fund, and Senior Program Associate at El Pomar Foundation in Colorado.

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