Traffic circles become targets of vandalism

Traffic circles, those sometimes round, sometimes lozenge-shaped planters in the middle of intersections, are meant to slow down traffic in congested areas.

Once the Seattle Department of Transportation agrees to the need for a traffic circle, it builds it to city specifications. If a neighbor or neighbors volunteer to maintain the circle, the city supplies plants and advice for maintaining a neighborhood green spot. If no one volunteers, the city covers it with asphalt.

Dr. Murray Bennett volunteered. He has been maintaining the traffic circles at the intersections of Belmont Avenue East and East Harrison Street and Belmont Avenue East and East Thomas Street for three years.

Bennett, who lives between the two circles, has a green thumb and a yen to garden. He bought his own plants, installed irrigation equipment and generally lavished care on the two circles, one of which even has a palm tree.

"It was a mess, and I like gardening," Bennett said of his decision to take responsibility for the two traffic circles. "I knew if I didn't water it, nobody would."

Through his work on the circles he has met many people in the neighborhood who have also become involved, contributing money and labor for the ongoing work.

"It's mostly a hobby, I guess," he said. "It's how I got to know most of the people on the block."

So it was no surprise that Bennett was devastated in late June when he discovered someone had vandalized the planters, sawing off trees and cutting off shrubs and flowers. He said people often take flowers, and sometimes will pull out a plant, but you get used to that.

"Usually it is drunks," Bennett said. "They're drunk, walking home from the bar, you expect that. You don't expect all of them [the plants] to come out. We think it was early in the morning the 29th of June," Bennett said. The damage was discovered about 7 a.m. by a neighbor who told Bennett. "They topped it all off and put it in a dumpster."

The city does not get many reports about traffic circle vandalism, according to Roy Francis, the Seattle Department of Trans-portation's manager of urban forestry. Francis said most often his office hears about drivers running over the circles. Vandalizing planted traffic circles may or may not be unusual, but what kind of vandal cleans up after him or herself? All the cutting debris was deposited in a construction dumpster in the 200 block of Belmont Avenue East.

Bennett said he knows the vandalism occurred around 2 a.m. because he canvassed neighbors and several remember hearing dumpster noises at that time. No one heard any tool noises, so Bennett speculates that hand tools were used.

"The really odd part is not leaving it [the cut plants and tree] here," he said.

Besides chopping the plants (a 20-inch stump was all that was left of a 30-foot epaulette tree), the perpetrator(s) pulled up the irrigation system as well. That included 50 feet of buried soaker-hose and a buried tree-watering ring.

"It was not a lot of value," Bennett said, "but that tree, you can't even get that tree now. It's a rare tree." Also called a ptero styrax hispida, the tree blooms with trusses of flowers that give it its popular name. "I planted this tree three years ago."

Bennett said neither of the traffic circles was blocking views, and many people in the neighborhood gave him compliments when he was out working on them.

"It makes no sense," he said of the attack.

Bennett thinks it must have been at least two people because he does not think one person could have moved all the detritus to the dumpster. He estimates that two people could have done the destruction and clean-up in 10 to 20 minutes.

"I hope someone has seen something so we can get an idea," he said.

Since the destruction Bennett has not been working on the circles.

""I have not been watering things because I didn't know if I was the target or what," he said.

Just a few days after the vandalism, on July 16, someone stole the 300-foot hose Bennett used to water the circles. The hose was on a reel in his garage, which was closed but not locked. Ten days later someone opened the garage again and stole two hoses equaling 150-feet.

"Someone has a vendetta or an objection about the gardening thing," Bennett speculated. He has filed police reports on everything that happened. He doesn't really expect the police to do anything, but he hopes that if other people file reports when something happens, it may show a pattern that will help identify what is going on.

Francis added that if someone wants to adopt an unmaintained traffic circle, volunteers are always welcome.

"We would be delighted and we would do whatever we can to assist them," he said.

Although technically a no-fee permit is required to garden on planters and parking strips, anyone who wants to drag out the hose and water is more than welcome to do so. If someone wants to actively maintain a traffic circle, the city would like to know.

"We like to know who is there, because we do try to keep track of our volunteers," Francis said. "Mostly as a courtesy, we like them to contact us."

There are 59 traffic circles on Capitol Hill. If you would like to adopt a traffic circle, contact Liz Ellis, 684-5008, or ellise@seattle.gov.[[In-content Ad]]