Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Diverse Bicycles and Street Names

A nice sighting on Hodge Road. Watch out for those speedhumps!

Where's Hodge Road? The glut of streetname-worthy personages in Princeton's history has caused many streets to adopt a Zelig-like quality of switching identities every couple blocks. Hodge Road begins its life in the eastern lowlands as Tyson Lane, but quickly grows restless during its slow climb, abandoning that name after only one block in favor of Littlebrook Road, then quickly changing names again, becoming Rollingmead Street. Its passage across the threshold of Snowden Lane seems a fitting time to adopt yet another alias, Hamilton Ave, perhaps to better fit in to a neighorhood populated with Harriet, Hornor, Harrison and Hawthorn. This Hamilton persona continues for a surprisingly long stretch before the street--excuse me ... Avenue--gives in to old impulses and flirts for a brief time with the name Wiggins Street. At Witherspoon, it senses another historical shift and takes the proud name Paul Robeson Place before settling on Hodge Road for its final blocks. Hodge ends at Elm Road, which if you turn right will soon become the Great Road, whose greatness may not be clear in the eye of the beholder.

Some have speculated that the tradition of name changing could have played a key role in confusing the British during the Revolutionary War, and has served to intimidate potential invaders, and benign newcomers, ever since. With the development of GPS by government researchers, New Jersey and Princeton in particular has lost this protective web of confoundment.

While traveling from Tyson to Hodge, you may as a Princetonian of highly advanced discernment wish to point out to fellow travelers the subtle differences in road width, surface texture and overall bearing that distinguish a Lane from a Street and an Avenue from a Place. Also, a tip for those lost and searching for a particular street in Princeton: just keep going straight. You'll probably find it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Big Party, Small (Carbon) Footprint Event Tonight

Reducing one's carbon footprint is not usually associated with big fun, but the idea is to uncouple fun from consumption of fossil fuels.

Sustainable Princeton has an event tonight at the Whole Earth Center to help you party without the associated environmental hangover. Check the contact info below if you can't make the event but want info. (It's part of a larger initiative, including a very reasonably priced assessment of one's home energy use and potential savings (at this link).)

Big Party, Small (Carbon) Footprint
Green Event Planning for the Holidays & Beyond

November 21 from 7:30-9:00 p.m. at the Whole Earth Center

The holiday season is upon us and with that comes parties, festive packaging, decorations etc.  
Ever wonder how to stay green amid all that tinsel?  

Join Sustainable Princeton’s Green CORE (Community Outreach & Resident Engagement) and share ideas and find out more. The Whole Earth Center is located at 360 Nassau Street, Princeton, to learn strategies and tips on how to keep events green without sacrificing style or breaking the piggy bank.  

For more information, please contact Annarie Lyles  ( or Alexandra Bar-Cohen  (

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me A Rake

One day, a scavenged rake handle--tineless, alone in the world, feeling unloved and useless--met a beautiful red rake that too had lost its mate and then narrowly escaped a one-way ride to the landfill.

They stood shyly next to each other in the garage for what seemed like months, until the handle, transPortered by the rake's perfect symmetry, could not contain itself any longer and burst out singing, "But if baby I'm the bottom, you're the top."

When he got to the part about how she was "the smile on the Mona Lisa", she could resist no longer.

Thousands of leaves danced at their wedding in the sweet autumn afternoon. They've been happily married ever since, and each year look forward to starting a new leaf pile on its way to maturity.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Trouble for Princeton's Trees (a crosspost)

This was posted earlier at one of the companions to this blog, A recently completed tree inventory suggests that Princeton could end up losing ten street trees for every new one planted in coming years.

To inoculate you for the news carried in this post, I'd like to point out that wishful thinking is not the same as hope. In fact, to the extent that it postpones action, wishful thinking can be thought of as the enemy of hope. Bad news is much more easily accepted if we feel confident in our capacity to work together as a community to respond.

Princeton has a real challenge ahead if it is to keep its protective canopy of trees in coming decades. There are the losses in recent years due to storms like Hurricane Sandy, the ongoing attrition as some pin oaks and red oaks succumb to Bacterial Leaf Scorch, and then there is the gathering storm just to our west of the emerald ash borer. Through a recently completed tree inventory, Princeton can now look at the numbers, and they don't add up--the number of trees likely to be lost dwarfs the number of trees being planted.

Doing the Math

Here are the numbers, rounded off for easier math, as presented by Bob Wells of Morris Arboretum, who directed the inventory and integrated it with an earlier survey of borough trees done by Jim Consolloy. These are only the trees growing in the street right of ways. Trees in parks, preserves, and on private property are not included. Of Princeton's 19,000 street trees, 3000 are in poor condition--unlikely to live beyond the next five years. Another 6000 are in fair condition, with an estimated life expectancy of 5-15 years. Even those trees in good condition are threatened by a growing collection of invading insects and diseases, along with the increasing weather extremes associated with climate change. For instance, some of Princeton's 1400 pin oaks and red oaks will continue to be lost to Bacterial Leaf Scorch.

Compare those numbers with the current replacement rate. Princeton purchases and plants about 60 trees each year along the streets. Its tree crew takes down about 250 trees each year in parks and along streets. The numbers offered up by the tree inventory estimates the annual loss of street trees to be a minimum of 600. By this math, we will be losing ten trees for every one being planted. And this doesn't even take into account the imminent arrival of the Emerald Ash Borer.
Emerald = Less Green

Perhaps most worrisome is the looming threat to Princeton's most common tree, the ash. We can expect to lose most of our 2200 white and green ash trees along the streets in coming years, plus the tens of thousands in our woodlands. The culprit is the emerald ash borer (EAB), an insect that hitch-hiked to southeastern Michigan in wooden packing crates from China, then proliferated to kill 50,000 trees before anyone knew what it was. Since its identification in 2002, EAB has been radiating out across the midwest, killing tens of millions of trees, including a relentless spread eastward through Ohio and Pennsylvania to the border with New Jersey. A map at this link shows New Jersey essentially surrounded by infestations in bordering states.

As chance would have it, the original EAB infestation occurred just north of Ann Arbor, MI, where I used to live. The city of 100,000 had to spend $5.8 million removing 10,000 trees. Interestingly, Ann Arbor's arborist told me that ash continue to sprout in the woodlands there, and can grow to 6 inch diameter, but the chances of their growing to maturity are slim.

Princeton has dealt with threats to trees in the past. A bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) has been used to reduce the impact of gypsy moths--also an exotic insect. According to Greg O'Neil, Princeton's arborist, the wooly adelgid's attack on our eastern hemlocks was slowed down by pesticide, after which the pest appears to have "cycled through", allowing many hemlocks to survive.

There is, however, no known control for emerald ash borer other than individually treating each tree, and even then the results are mixed. As an added complication, Imidacloprid, the most frequently mentioned systemic insecticide for protecting ash trees, may be contributing to the decline of honey bees.

What To Do

The sooner we acknowledge the depths of the challenge we face, the more proactive we can be, and the better the prognosis for Princeton's tree canopy. There are a number of actions that can be taken. Treatment for ash trees that are particularly cherished is best undertaken before the emerald ash borer arrives. To better spread the work of removal over a number of years, some of the younger or less healthy ash trees can be taken down and replaced with another species before the invasion hits. The municipality should at least be planning for the extra staff needs and the seven figure expense coming down the pike.

The big question is how to replace so many trees with a limited budget. The more gaps in the street canopy, the more pavement is exposed to the sun, which through the "heat island effect" causes the town to be hotter than it need be in the summer. At $200 each, new trees aren't cheap, and then there's the planting and followup care to insure they survive.

One approach I'm exploring, as a member of the Princeton Shade Tree Commission, is transplanting "volunteer" trees that sprout in people's yards. Some species are more appropriate than others, and determining where to plant them along the street requires some guidance. Perhaps we can come up with a guide, and motivated neighbors could take initiative in their neighborhood to identify gaps and work with willing homeowners to get trees planted in an optimal place and manner along the street. Given the infinite reasons that can be summoned for inaction, such an approach will only work if people see how their own needs can be met by participating in the collective endeavor of shading our streets.

For me, the hope lies in the growth force and the natural affinity people have for trees. It's remarkable how quickly the red oak in this photo, which sprouted on its own in my next door neighbor's yard not that many years ago, has grown large enough to cast much-needed shade on our driveway.

Neighbors a couple doors down have transplanted volunteer trees to key spots in their yard--to shade the house, provide habitat for birds, and provide buffer from the street. After just a few years, they are robust young trees--a white oak, pin oak, American elm and tulip poplar. Another friend is growing a pawpaw and a fig in a sunny spot in their backyard--going for food rather than shade.

Each kind of tree has its strengths and potential drawbacks and vulnerabilities, but after years in which Princeton's landscape was dominated by mature trees, it's refreshing to see young ones coming on the scene, filling the voids, reaching for the sun.

Related to this, the opening reception for an art exhibit entitled "The Fallen and Unfallen: Trees in Peril" is Nov. 1 at the DR Greenway, 5:30 to 7:30. More info here. With paintings and photographs, it celebrates trees while also identifying some of the threats they face, in little snippets of info like this one.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


I'd say "Get thee to a votary!", but it turns out that a votary is defined as a monk or a nun, and they probably aren't working at the polls. October 16 was a good practice run for today's election.

Friday, November 01, 2013

To Pave or Not To Pave

Having watched a few baseball games over the years, I had come to believe that it's over when it's over. This looks over to me. The American Water Company proactively replaced an old water line in our neighborhood, then laid down a nice patch along the middle of the street--a street that looked to otherwise be in good condition. The street, like a dental patient, had received a filling. There seemed no need for an expensive crown.

But no, I was wrong. It's not really over until the fat lady sings, in this case the fat lady that chomps a few inches of asphalt off the street.

The fat lady, being a primadonna, brought her whole weighty entourage,

some of whom looked like they hadn't changed much since World War II.

After a couple days of hefty labor and ponderous groan, they moved on, leaving a gloriously paved street in their wake. Beautifully done, and looking at it from the narrow perspective of a neigborhood, it's pleasing to have it done. American Water says it's all part of replacing the water lines. But taking a larger view, surely there are streets elsewhere, crumbling, plagued with potholes, in greater need of care. If most teeth can function long and well with minor patching, then why not streets? At least on the surface, it seems like a big production for little gain. I know not why the fat lady sings.