Most of us don’t think of trees as infrastructure, but in an urban context they are just that. Research indicates that they can play a powerful role in traffic calming, especially through their impact on three vehicle-related risks: speeding, road rage, and pedestrian/bicyclist injury, streets with landscaped center medians or perimeter street trees may affect driver perception of lane width, causing something called the “edge effect.” This “edge effect” provides them with a psychological prompt to go slower. Further findings show that simply viewing nature in urban settings has a strongly restorative and calming effect.
Putting safety first and creating a safe environment for pedestrians and bicyclists who share the road with vehicles is also an important consideration in road design. A 2010 report from the School of Forest Resources at the University of Washington showed that drivers seeing natural roadside views exhibited lower levels of stress and frustration compared to those viewing all-built settings.
In an informal poll on TreeUtah’s Facebook Group page respondents overwhelmingly selected that trees did make a difference in keeping them calm in traffic as opposed to the notion that trees did not affect mood and driving. Providing green routes also addresses some negative influences of commuting on the health by reducing stress and frustration in congested or slow-moving traffic. Simply having green space for the eye and mind to focus on allows us time to engage with our environment in a meaningful way.
The next time you are out on the road take a look around and notice how you feel on street lined with trees and those without trees. What do you prefer and how can you support the effort in urban forestry? One positive action might just be joining a TreeUtah event!