SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – A new bus rapid transit (BRT) line is supposed to be a major step forward for mass transit in the South Bay. But residents who live near the line are fuming, after dozens of trees were cut down.
One by one, the big street trees came down, but not without a ruckus. Drivers along Alum Rock Avenue honked their horns in protest, while others posted photos on social media.
To Mayra Montoya of San Jose, it looked like a sneak attack on the trees. “We were just driving home and we could tell something was different…the scenery just looked empty,” Montoya told KPIX 5.
“Yeah, it was a surprise. It’s just not something we see here all the time, cutting down trees. We usually fight to save our trees and not cutting them down. And it wasn’t just a couple it was like the whole lane,” she said.
In all, 135 trees were chopped down, including several very large redwoods that have stood for decades.
The tree cutting is all to make room for a new bus-only lane, part of the BRT project.
The Valley Transportation Authority said BRT will be similar to light rail, but without the tracks.
“You do have the dedicated lanes, you do have a much more speedy and timely routes that you can run. And so it brings the advantages of light rail without the heavy costs of fixed rail,” VTA Board Chair and San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra said.
Kalra said the agency had a public meeting, went door-to-door to alert neighbors, and even posted notices on the trees themselves, which were removed.
How were so many neighbors caught unaware? There was no mention of tree removal on the project’s online fact sheet. We asked Kalra about the lack of postings on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, or the neighborhood site Nextdoor.
“It’s a good suggestion to think about Nextdoor and more neighborhood sites especially if we are going to be impacting a neighborhood that’s neighboring to a project. It’s something I’ll recommend to the agency,” Kalra said.
A VTA official said Tuesday that there were a total of five public meetings on the project, although the meetings were not all about the tree cutting.
The agency said that two trees will be planted for each one cut down, but neighbors said it will take a long time for the new trees to mature.