Are leaf piles a bike safety hazard?

Posted by on November 20th, 2007 at 3:40 pm

(Photo © Jonathan Maus)

A story in the Portland Tribune today, Fall bounty piles on problems, profiles a Laurelhurst couple who are concerned that leaf piles in their neighborhood might “someday cost a bicyclist or a pedestrian or a motorist his life.”

At issue are huge piles of leaves raked into the street by homeowners. They expect PDOT crews to pick them up, even though it’s not technically PDOT’s job (they’re only supposed to clean up leaves that fall from trees that overhang into the street).

The story focuses on the crusade being waged by Laurelhurst resident Todd Peterson and his wife (who asked that her name not be mentioned). They want people to pick up their own leaves before someone gets hurt.

Here’s a snip from the Tribune article:

Peterson says the practice in essence turns two-lane streets into one-lane streets, and says he worries about serious accidents with bicyclists or cars. “It’s going to happen, sooner or later,” he says.

According to the article, the practice of sweeping leaves into the street like this is not technically illegal (yet), but it is discouraged. Each year, PDOT distributes flyers to these neighborhoods with, “an admonition against the “rake your leaves into the street” practice”.

Peterson’s wife emailed me a few days ago wondering, “are you bikers driven crazy by people sweeping their leaves into the street?”

I agreed with her that these piles are a nuisance, but I’m not exactly fearing for my life. I also encouraged her to call 823-SAFE (7233) — PDOT’s livability hotline — to report her concerns and keep me posted on what happens.

What are your experiences with these leaf piles? Bike safety hazard? A sign of “bicycle neglect”? No big whoop?

I’m curious what you think.

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anomalily
Guest
anomalily

I will bicycle outside of a bike lane if it is covered in leaves- especially when they are wet. Seems like I\’m just asking for trouble. It is particularly bad going Eastbound on NE Broadway and on some parts of NE Alberta.

a.O
Guest
a.O

The leaves are frequently extremely slippery, especially after marinating in rain and getting mashed down by wheels and boots for a few weeks. I would think you\’re risking civil liability if you\’re intentionally putting them in the street for people to ride over.

Tasha
Guest
Tasha

I have had a few slips and slides with the leaves and on NE Knott, they do turn a normally nice wide biking street into a narrower street for sure. I don\’t neccessarily fear for my life, but it\’s not an ideal situation. I\’d rather they not be there, if given the choice!

pushkin
Guest
pushkin

a.O. – Well put.

And might I add that leaving your trash for someone else to pick up is rather uncivil behavior. The Petersons will no doubt incur the ire of their neighbors but they are doing what any responsible adult would do. The wise owl said Give a hoot, don\’t pollute.

On a side note, how many puns will this article generate? I think I may have made one already.

true
Guest
true

Ironically, some of the worst areas for this practice are in areas specifically designed to be safer for bicycles – like the intersection of Clinton and 39th. Last week I was headed east through there while TWO homeowners were leaf-blowing into the street to their hearts content. I find the billowing clouds of smoke from those leaf-blowers more obnoxious than the leaves…

It seems rude on the part of homeowners to put their refuse out into the street when there are a number of viable options, and there\’s a bit of a safety issue, but it\’s way down on my list of complaints about cycling safety.

Take corners slower when there\’s wet leaves around.

e
Guest
e

They definately present a hazard, especially under the conditions described by A.O. above. They are a hazard that can be mitigated with some caution and good route selcetion though. In my opion the folks that do push them into the middle of the street are simply lazy and inconsiderate of their neighbors as wells as cyclists.

b
Guest
b

it is a hazard. especially during early morning or late night commutes during the wet fall.

laurelhurst, as well as NE Everett/Davis are notorious areas for this.

the more people ride over them, the more they get packed flat, the less you notice them when you are riding.

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

I\’ve had a couple of really bad close calls recently on SE Ankeny and other residential streets. The combination of early nightfall, heavy rain, and deep piles of leaves extending into the roadway is resulting in some pretty treacherous conditions for bikes.

I almost feel like I have to choose between the dangers of wet leaves with few cars, or clean streets but heavy auto traffic.

OTOH, it\’s probably good urban training for all our cross-racing friends.

nicole
Guest
nicole

i\’ve swerved and lost balance and almost toppled into wet streets when tougher things like sticks and rocks are hiding in the leaf piles. those hazards aren\’t expected or even visible and are much more dangerous than the leaves themselves.

Elliot
Guest
Elliot

I was riding through Laurelhurst this weekend and noticed that button for the HAWK signal at 41st Avenue crossing Burnside was inaccessible… unless one felt like sliding across an entire lane\’s worth of leaves and then putting their foot down in 4\” of water. Not very novice/family friendly.

Anon.
Guest
Anon.

I went down in a moment of attention lapse when I was late for work one day. A pile of leaves had accumulated near a driveway I was turning into and my front wheel washed out. Seems lazy to me, can\’t people take five extra minutes and just put them in the yard debris bin?

Another idea may be to better announce days when the street sweeper will be by to clean the streets. I believe Corvallis published dates when they would be by and residents were encouraged to put their leaves out by the street on or just before those days. Therefore the leaves were just a hazard for one day and then gone rather than left to stew for weeks until the next sweeper pass.

IE
Guest
IE

When I called the city about this issue they said \”we have a law that says please don\’t rake leaves into the street\”.

There is an ordinance against putting garbage in the street, so are leaves garbage?? I would think so.

This is not the most important issue in Portland, certainly, but I do know of someone who has been highly injured on leaves so it is not a phantom issue either.

I agree…rude, lazy, uncivil…

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

These are definitely a hazard for all road users. Years ago at night, I ran into a pile that jutted out into the street after a corner.

Really though, my biggest beef is that city funds are going to clean up these folks leaves. I have to pay for taking care of MY yard debris. This is NOT an appropriate use of public space or funds.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

They are potentially dangerous, especially on a wet night at an intersection where you are turning.

I think that it is selfish and lazy to rake your leaves out of your yard into the street. Pick them up and put them in a yard debris container, or even better compost them.

Stripes
Guest
Stripes

I absolutely agree that the piles of leaves are dangerous. They do essentially turn a two-lane street into a one-lane street, and motorists sure do like to get annoyed when they see you riding in the middle of the street, because the edge of the street is too slippery. A few observations from my own riding experiences…

1) Big piles of leaves often prevent me activating bike-crossing facilities. The piles of leaves covering the Clinton Street bike box at SE 39th are horrendous to the extent that you can\’t even see the bike box. An ENORMOUS pile of leaves right in front of the bike-activated pole for the HAWK signal at SE 41st & Burnside meant for several weeks I had to get off my bike, wade through the leaves on foot, press the signal, then get back on my bike.

2) Fallen leaves on the ground certainly DO injure people when they are wet (which in Oregon is, let\’s face it folks, often). I rode over a pile of leaves, slid, fell, and broke my arm a few years ago. I was not going fast at all. It\’s kind of like getting caught in the MAX tracks though – you just get flipped off your bike before you know what is happening. I landed so hard, my rainpants were totally ripped, so in addition to an insane medical bill, I had to shell out for new rainpants, oh no!

3) Finally, slipping on your bike on piles of fallen leaves swept into the street on a low-volume traffic bike boulevard like say, Salmon Street, might only cause you to badly injure yourself in the form of broken bones & the like when you fall. BUT! I worry greatly about slipping on enormous piles of leaves in bike LANES, falling, and then being hit or run over by a moving vehicle. Think that sounds ridiculous? Bike up Everett Street on the bikelane in NW just past the freeway, then turn right onto the bikelane at NW 18th. The piles of leaves there are insane, and the traffic heavy. Similarly, when you are riding in the bikelane at NE Irving Street near the Lloyd District (the road inbetween Benson High School and the I-84 freeway), the bikelane is currently overrun with leaves, and the cars that drive that road are fast, scary, and already in freeway mode. What to do? Ride in leaves and fall? Ride in the road, out of the leaf-strewn, slippery bikelane, and risk getting hit?

Scary stuff.

a.O
Guest
a.O

I should also add that, given the obviously hazardous nature of wet, squishy leaves, my opinion is that, under Oregon law cyclists are not required to ride through such crap and would be permitted to not stay to the right of the lane or to use any such compromised bike lane in order to avoid the hazard.

In fact, if someone wanted to look up the citation, this would make a great teachable moment in educating people on Oregon bike law.

Steven J.
Guest
Steven J.

Absolutely a hazard. In addition to the slippery element, they can hide even bigger hazards underneath

nate
Guest
nate

It\’s pretty bad through Ladd\’s and Clinton sometimes. Worse though, and even more inexcusable I think, is the horrible drainage that recent road \”improvements\” have caused at 26th and Powell and 28th and Holgate. There\’s no way to avoid riding into the middle of the lane without riding through several inches of water.

Tasha
Guest
Tasha

a.O. –

Agreed.

rekon
Guest
rekon

After spending at least 3 hours on average for one day out of each of the last 5 weekends raking (no blower for me) leaves not only from my yard, but also from the sidewalk and the street at least 6 feet out from the curb, then bagging them and taking them to one of the many city provided leaf drop-off depots…I have to say that I have NO patience with anyone who just rakes or blows their leaves into the street! I live on a corner at the bottom of a hill, so I get to rake not just one, but two streets and whatever has washed or blown down the hill.

I hate leaves…but I clean them up. I wish others did too.

bigB
Guest
bigB

I put cross tires on my commuter for the leaves. I have to admit I kind of like riding in them. That isn\’t to say it is safe.

C9
Guest
C9

I live on a heavily tree-lined street. The leaves that just fall naturally into the street and form a blanket of mushy wetness? That\’s way dangerous.

The giant piles that people rake out of their lawns to the curbside? No big whoop to me. I just go around them.

I do think it\’s poor form to rake your trash out of your yard and expect someone else to deal with it. But big bad bike hazard? Nah. . .

Robin
Guest

It\’s was very slippery in ladds last night. When a car was coming the other way it made me tense because the leaves made me need to be near the center of the lane. Boy oh boy are they slippery.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Yes, yes, yes, leaf piles are a problem. Not only for cyclists, but for drivers. In wet weather, as they decompose, they become incredibly slippery. I live on Ladd Avenue, and every day I see another one of my neighbors raking his or her leaves into the street. Last year, I stopped and asked one of these folks whether he knew that he was not supposed to do that – he responded by saying, \”Well, why did the city give me a pamphlet telling me when the pick up would be?\” I asked if he had actually READ the pamphlet, which advised that the pick up was only for leaves that fell in the street naturally and further advised that he was supposed to take his own damn leaves to a drop off site. No, of course, not – he had only looked at the dates, which were in large type . . AAARGH.

Kevin Wagoner
Guest

This year hasn\’t been that bad from a leaf prospective for me. In some years pasts after heavy rains there have been big piles in the bike lane on Barber. Those piles left me no choice but to go into the car lanes. That wasn\’t much fun, but I was careful to make sure there wasn\’t a car behind me that I jumped out in front of. Definitely a nuisance and I think one could argue that on busy roads also dangerous.

Jan
Guest
Jan

Where I live, leaves are picked up by the city (what a waste of city money). These leaf piles often cover the bike lanes, and indeed are safety hazards, especially after rain storms.

I\’d like to see what happens if people start raking those leaves into the middle of the roadway, right in the path of cars. I\’d bet you\’d see some changes/action on the matter.

Donna
Guest
Donna

I\’m torn. They are definitely a hazard, but I also wish there was a better way for people to get rid of their leaves. I realize many people have far more leaves than yard debris space. What if garbage bills were slightly higher in the months of October-November and there was more frequent removal of leaves on the street? It seems likely that most would be happy to pay for such a convenience. Publish a schedule as they do in Corvallis and then come down hard on people who blow/sweep their leaves in the road at other times.

Mmann
Guest
Mmann

Another potential problem is the clogged grates and accompanying \”lakes\” created by them. Cyclist frequently have to go out into traffic to avoid these, and then there\’s the dreaded soaking from cars who drive through these lakes. Anyone who rakes leaves into the street is contributing to this hazard as well.

James Kirk
Guest
James Kirk

Damn, damn dangerous, these leavings from trees. Cyclocross tires: oh how I lust after thee!

Bob
Guest
Bob

I\’ve almost bit it a few times because of wet leaves. What really drives me crazy is when they clog the street sewers and create huge puddles that take up most of the road. It isn\’t fun riding through them or having cars splash me.

That said, I can\’t imagine Portland without the trees and if this is the price we have to pay for the beauty then I am more than willing to go a little slower around corners and to be more cautious this time of year.

Laura
Guest
Laura

I ran into a large pile of leaves last year. It was dark, I had my lights but their flashing makes me visable more than it lights up my path on dark residential streets. At least when I flipped over my handle bars I had a pile of leaves to land in.

Calvin
Guest
Calvin

I think that piles of leaves are great. They\’re fun to ride through (dry) and super slippery and great for sliding around (wet).

I agree with the dangers, though. Small children and other hazards could easily be hidden from view, and the slippery wet ones make safe cornering a slow process.

Jason
Guest
Jason

A west-sider perspective: the professional landscapers leaf-blew huge piles of leaves onto the bike lanes on NW Evergreen a couple of weeks ago, and after they picked up the leaves, they left a flippin\’ MESS in the bike lanes.

Not only are they slippery, but they actually make it harder to see real road hazards; you really can\’t tell if there is glass, metal, or other things hidden in the bike lane.

This in turn means that you end up riding in the traffic lane, which means that we have one lane in each direction now (sorry, motorists), as opposed to the two that Washington County intended.

My 0.02 cents.

Jeanette
Guest
Jeanette

The city used to publish the street cleaner schedule but then budget cuts…and anyone who lives outside of the special leaf area was reduced to a couple of times a year for cleaning. In SE Portland, most people rake them up and take them to the leaf depots. If the City made the same changes in the Laurelhurst area, most of the homeowners would probably start cleaning up after themselves like grownups.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

In SE, the leaf piles are annoying, but they tend to be on lower traffic streets, and so I\’m already riding down the center of the street… That said, it would be fairly easy to enforce a law about not sweeping them into the streets: The streets don\’t naturally make big piles, so if you have one, the city should bill you for cleaning it up.

My big problem area is the leaves on the south side of Willamette Blvd… Given that there aren\’t any houses on that side, (and I\’ve never seen anyone make a pile on the north side,) I\’m guessing that it is caused by a combination of wind, rain, and gravity just dumping them into the gutter (aka bike lane.) Mix in the depressed storm drains there, and the big wind storm a couple weeks ago that knocked a bunch of branches down, and the leaves are slick and very bumpy. It is fall.

The lakes happen everywhere. The piles doesn\’t help, but pretty much every storm drain in the world clogs up every fall. Be glad we don\’t live in a colder climate, those lakes could freeze up, (leaves and all.)

Ian Stude
Guest
Ian Stude

This is definitely a problem on my route. NE Glisan has had some obnoxiously large piles right in the bike lane lately. I go through Laurelhurst on my way home and this area is also especially bad. If you happen to use Ankeny from 32nd to 39th, watch out for the MASSIVE pile hiding in the dark at the bottom of the hill. It\’s literally the size of a large truck that\’s been poorly parked. That\’s my 2 cents.

Jerrod
Guest
Jerrod

leaves go slippy slippy all over, I fall down go boom!

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

Leaves belong in yard debris cans or bags.

You don\’t throw the rest of your recycling in the street do you?

I recall many years ago I was fined 200 dollars for having the middle seat to my 1959 Volkswagon bus under a nice cover, on the side of my house. Plus they took it off my property and threw it away, without consulting me, and forced me to pay the 200 dollars. (By the way the value of that seat was very high, and now is worth many times more, and the bus was parked properly on the street outside.)

If they can do that, they can fine these leaf litterers.

But they won\’t.

girl on a bike
Guest
girl on a bike

Well, considering that the one nasty spill I\’ve taken on my bike as an adult happened when I hit a wet patch of leaves hiding in the shade on a sunny morning, I\’ve learned to be extremely cautious whenever there are leaves around. That fall resulted in a badly sprained thumb, road rash all over my right arm, and a gigantic, painful, bruised scab covering my right hip. I couldn\’t walk for a few hours after, and it hurt to ride for the next week. Just this morning I was angrily buzzed by a big SUV for moving out further into the lane (I even signaled first!) to avoid plowing into someone\’s GINORMOUS leaf pile on SE Stark by the nursery. So, um, yes. Leaves = pain in my arse, literally.

David Dean
Guest
David Dean

Yep, leaves are slippery and a hazard. They narrow roads and eliminate bike lanes.

kurt
Guest
kurt

I definitely don\’t fear for my life, but I have crashed on wet, slick leaves in the past, and I also will try another route. I ride and commute daily and leaves are definitely a problem, especially the nuisance of the leaf blowers blowing the crap right at you.

erth64net
Guest
erth64net

Dangerous? YES!

Just this evening I was headed eastbound down SE Ankeny, moving at my normal pace (~15-20mph), when a passing car forced me into a leaf pile. The pile caught my front wheel, forcing it towards a hard right, and down I went. I\’m now nursing a road-rash the size of my hand.

Another cyclist stopped to confirm I was alright (thanks!). A few pedestrians approached, indicating that another cyclist had crashed the same way just a couple minutes prior. That kind of road hazard is just a liability suit waiting to happen.

Lynne
Guest
Lynne

The Cedar Hills neighborhood in Beaverton is often full of leaf piles as well (not at the moment; the leaf sweeper came through).

No street lights, and the leaf piles have no reflectors. I just ride down the middle of the street, as it is very low traffic, but I wish the leaf piles weren\’t there.

Tim H
Guest

jeesh guys. sorry but some of you are making bikers sound like a bunch of whiners. you can handle a few wet leaves, believe me, it\’s not the end of the world. be a little more careful. look at it as a challenge. bike for fun.

it\’s autumn. leaves fall. sometimes it rains. just ride it. take a different route. or take a bus. or walk if it\’s so scary.

so what if twice a year for three days people rake their leaves into the street. maybe they\’re not out to get you. I think the big trees in those neighborhoods are what makes riding through there so nice. and those people take care of them them so cut them a little slack already. come on, bellyache about real problems. let the little things slide. I don\’t know, just my opinion.

Michael Ronkin
Guest

Portland’s rival bicycle-friendly city, Corvallis, my home for 22 years, had a sensible program. Rather than ban leaf raking into the street, it was managed: every fall the city newsletter would clearly spell out which days you could rake your leaves into the street, but only in the parking area, and they’d pick it up on those dates and recycle it with other compostable organic debris. The ordinance was clear about one thing: you could not rake leaves into bike lanes.

Of course it wasn’t perfect, some homeowners ignored the “no leaves in bike lanes” provision, or raked them on random days, but overall, you could ride with confidence in the fall; only after a heavy storm was the problem bad enough to be a hazard to riding.

Tim Roth
Guest

Thanks for the chiding Tim H. If you recall the original post, it asked a question of whether or not leaf piles were a safety hazard. This isn\’t just a complaining spree.

That enormous pile on Ankeny right by Laurelhurst was removed just yesterday and the street has been swept quite well, thankfully. I actually had my first real close call coming down that hill the other day at dusk when a man in his white Ford Explorer thought it would be a good idea to pull out directly in front of me and then slowly take off up a side street (he did not have his lights on and failed to signal his pullout and turn). This sent me into a diagonal skid involving both wheels due to how hard I had to brake and the leaf-laden, soggy roadway. Luckily I was able to pull out of it, but then I nearly pitched into the giant leaf pile because I had swerved to the right to avoid becoming Ford-kill.

So yes, leaf piles are hazardous, especially at night when you can\’t see how far they extend into the road. It would be great if the city would make cleaning up leaves on bike boulevards and bike lanes a priority.

cityworker
Guest
cityworker

The city \”harvests\” these leaves on certain streets and composts them and sells the finished product back to anybody who wants it. Has that been clarified yet?

While we\’re discussing street safety problems, who can we call about this dang rain? So slippery.. and wet.

Matt Picio
Guest

It would be greater if homeowners and landlords would take care of the leaf removal themselves rather than assuming the city will do it. \”The City\” is a few thousand people, all of whom have a lot of work to do. The property owners are a few HUNDRED thousand people, who could save the city some money by picking up after themselves. These are the same people who then turn around and complain about property taxes and bond measures.

When I owned my home, I took care of my own yard debris – I didn\’t pawn it off on the city.

I, too, have had trouble with leaf piles – but I usually just take it slow and stay as upright as possible.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

As someone who knows leaf clean-up first hand. I always clean the curb areas in front of my customers houses, some have requested I just rake them into the street, I refuse. It\’s not fair for taxpayers to pay to clean up debris that is generated from their yard. I\’ve seen people trim their bushes and hide them under the leaves! Friends of Trees planted 1600 trees this year, there\’s going to be alot more leaves in the future, it\’s time to nip this in the bud, so to speak. Trees reduce the need for air conditing and it seems like houses on tree lined streets sell for more, basically the homeowner gets the benefits from the trees, at least they should be able to take care of them.
Oh Yes, I find them somewhat risky to ride my bike or drive on, it\’s definetly an accident waiting to happen.

Joe R.
Guest
Joe R.

It\’s pretty rude for homeowners to rake their leaves into the street, and it\’s all too commonplace. When I lived in Laurelhurst, I just raked the leaves myself and put them in my compost pile. Took about 20-30 minutes. There\’s no excuse not to do it. My landlord pays gardners to remove leaves in front of my new house weekly now and I actually miss the experience. In fact, I sometimes try to rake the leaves before the gardners come to put in the compost pile before they take them away. I\’m sick of people wanting to live in single-family neighborhoods yet don\’t accept the responsibilities of keeping a tidy yard.

As for safety, I do feel unsafe biking in the neighborhood this time of year. On streets like NE Knott, I have to ride closer to the travel lane now because the leaves have piled up in places. I feel even less safe walking through the sludge when I cross streets.

Not sure what the solution is. Maybe if the city cut out the leaf collection program homeowners might not rake their leaves into the street and instead might rake up ALL the leaves in front of their homes.