Fighting Traffic with Trees

Congestion on major roadways means more commuter traffic down residential streets. There are city policies in place to deal with the situation – but can trees help too?


As highways and arterial roads grow ever-more congested, residential streets have taken on the role of “shortcuts” for many commuters.

Such has been the case in my neighbourhood in Mimico. A combination of ongoing highway construction, bad traffic jams, thousands of new condo units, and area geography has resulted in once quiet streets now seeing a flash-flood of fast paced commuters during peak hours.

Rush hour in Toronto


The city has a petition system in place for residential streets to request a “Traffic Calming Assessment” to help address traffic volume and speed through the use of reduced speed limits, speed humps, changes to street dimensions, and police enforcement. As unpopular as many of these options can be, approximately 200 residents and local stakeholders in our neighbourhood decided they were the lesser of two evils and signed the petition.

Leo Jansen (a volunteer) and I spent over eight months collecting signatures from residents and meeting with stakeholders about traffic issues before submitting the petition. It may still be several more months before an assessment is made, and several years before any changes are implemented – assuming these streets even qualify.

What if there was an easier way to address traffic patterns on residential streets? One that did not rely on construction and concrete? Turns out there might be: plant more trees.

Several studies over the last few decades have supported the idea that street trees can slow traffic and improve safety for pedestrians, road users, and wildlife alike. Using trees to help slow traffic while helping Toronto reach its 40% canopy cover goals just makes sense.



 Late this fall Leo and I submitted a request to the City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division to look at planting more street trees on the concerned streets in the area (a process that did not require eight months of signature collection). The Forestry department was more than happy to oblige, and their assessment has already yielded 94 new potential planting sites for street trees in our neighbourhood! Residents will receive notices from the City if one of the these sites is located in front of their home, and provided they accept, a tree will be planted there in the future.

Leo and I distributed information handouts to residents explaining the merits of street trees and their impact on traffic in the hopes that residents would support the planting of city street trees on the road allowance in front of their homes. With so many residents concerned over traffic issues, we are optimistic that most if not all of the notices distributed to residents will be approved for tree planting this coming spring.

Some residents may even go one step further and plant trees on their private property. We encouraged residents to do so and provided brochures on LEAF’s subsidized Backyard Planting Program.  The more trees that get planted the better!


 trees on a residential street


Special thanks to the City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division and to LEAF for supporting this cause. We are all looking forward to seeing our 94 new trees this spring.


Eric Vanderwal is a guest blogger and volunteer photographer for LEAF. His childhood summers spent at the family cottage have helped to drive his passion for bringing nature into the city. Having studied Business, Economics, and Environmental Management, Eric's interests are in promoting the harmony between economically and environmentally sound solutions. He enjoys travelling, and many outdoor hobbies that bring him closer to nature. You can see more of his work at