Who You Should Call If You Trip On A Tree Root In Seattle

Feb 24, 2014

Seattle is well-known as a city that loves its trees. The city even has a plan to increase its tree canopy to cover 30 percent of its open skies by the year 2037.

But the trees can sometimes get out of hand. Their powerful roots can be downright treacherous when they push through sidewalks.

So, what to do if you see one that has you worried? Or if you stub your toe on a bulging root? 

Brennan Staley, a senior planner with Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development, says if you stub your toe or even break your leg on a tree root, there’s only about a one in six chance that the city is liable, as there are six privately-owned trees to every city-owned tree in Seattle. You can call a hotline to find out which is the case for a specific tree: 684-TREE, or 206-684-8733.

I called the hotline, and city arborist Nolan Rudnquist patiently answered all of my questions. Rundquist says the city has three or four arborist-inspectors they can send to check out problematic trees. 

“That’s one of the things we do want to know about, is if there’s any sidewalk uplifts or anything like that out there. I’m the guy to touch base with to find out whether it’s the city’s responsibility to repair the walk, or it’s the property owner’s responsibility," Rundquist said.

The city's to-do list is long, however, so don’t expect a fix overnight. 

But even if it's not a city-owned tree causing the problem, the city will put in a shim to smooth out the sidewalk and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. And the city will work with the tree owner to get it fixed. If a removal is necessary, the city may even have a free tree to plant in its place. 

There are a number of places that need attention, including whole neighborhoods where trees were planted for the World’s Fair in 1961. Those trees are outgrowing their original spaces, and the city has been working to replant and care for the ones that can be saved.

But the city can’t act unless people call.