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Could proposed “leaf tax” sweep away a bike safety hazard?

Posted by on November 21st, 2008 at 8:37 am

Leaves where bikes like to be.
(Photo: Elly Blue)

Every fall in Portland, mounds of leaves pile up on neighborhood streets, creating slippery conditions on road shoulders and sidewalks.

Yesterday the Oregonian featured a story about a new “leaf tax” being considered by Mayor-elect Sam Adams that would create “leaf districts” in areas of the city with many street trees.

Adams’ idea made me wonder if this new tax would improve biking conditions.

I witnessed the bicycle safety implications of leaf buildup while riding down NE Tillamook on my way to work a few days ago. At 16th, a man riding ahead of me made a turn to cross the traffic calming barrier, rode through a deep pile of leaves, and toppled over onto his side. He picked himself up, ruefully said he was okay, and kept riding.

Story continues below

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(Photo © J. Maus)

Exactly one year ago, we covered the leaf safety issue. That story focused on a Tribune article that mentioned a couple who voiced concerns that general tax dollars were being used to clean up leaf debris in some of Portland’s wealthiest neighborhoods, while residents in other parts of the city had to pay to remove leaves themselves.

That’s unfair according to Eastmoreland Neighborhood resident John Replinger. The Oregonian’s Jim Mayer reported that Replinger told City Council; “I’m paying to do the right thing…We’re rewarding the lawbreakers and putting pedestrians and cyclists at risk.”

Currently, the City picks up leaves in the roadway in areas with a lot of street trees — places with heavy bike traffic like Sellwood, Laurelhurst, and Irvington. In advance of scheduled leaf collection, residents receive a notice, which many take as an opportunity to sweep all of the leaves from their yards into the street — sometimes ruining a perfectly good shoulder to ride in.

What is your experience riding on leaf-strewn streets this time of year? Would you support this leaf tax idea if it meant your bike route would be a bit safer to ride on?

The tax is under consideration for next fall. Read the full story (and comments) in the Oregonian.

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Paul
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Paul

This issue drives me nuts this time of year. I often ride SE 41st from Stark, through the HAWK light to Glisan. It is all mountains of leaves now from properties adjacent to the street. Its awful at night.

So I’ve moved my commute to busier streets until the leaves are gone. But it is ridiculous to see a spotless lawn with nothing on it – and then at the curb a four foot high pile of leaves. Wonder how those got there?

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

I think that the tax will have a nagative effect- it will encourage people to sweep their leaves into the street. Whats needed is enforcement of the exisisting rules… but that would mean giving tickest to the landed gentry of this town.

Unless the tax would mean weekly or even daily pickups, I see it as an incentive for people to continue a dangerous practice.

Meghan
Guest
Meghan

I don’t mind new taxes, if it’s for something useful. But I have a hard time paying for leaves to be picked up out of the streets of our wealthiest citizens, which also happens to be where some of our largest and leaf-iest trees are.

The City needs to do more education about why it’s not okay to just sweep leaves into the street instead of taking them to one of the many leaf-drop-off sites around the City.

I ride at least three days a week, and Ladd’s Addition is where I’ve encountered the most problems with leaves where bikes are expected to be. The spot that scares me is the little curb cut you’re supposed to use to turn left onto Clay (?) St. as you’re leaving Ladd’s. It’s always covered in slippery stuff this time of year.

Ethan
Guest

I saw a guy using a blower to move all of his leaves into the street yesterday . . . it looked like a blast zone around his property. He clearly was not worried about a ticket (and it was a very busy street).

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

SE Oak between 39th and 41st is creepy dangerous. No only are all the leaves making riders take course down the center of the road, but they have blown towards the 39th crossing where, a place where you need to accelerate to beat the cars going sometimes over 35mph. When you stand up to accelerate through there it is slick as snot,

I support the tax. It makes sense if people are unwilling to be responsible for cleaning up their leaves.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Making yard debris pick up weekly for the month of November would take care of a lot of the leaves…the green bins hold a lot.
We should be rewarding folks who plant and care for trees, not taxing them.
How about a steep tax on leaf blowers!!! to cover the costs of more frequent yard debris pickup.

Alicia Crain
Guest
Alicia Crain

Aren’t property taxes paid in part to maintain the city? Doesn’t the city operate street sweepers throughout the rest of the year without imposing a “squeaky clean street tax”?

So…when they operate the street sweepers in fall (they were on my street earlier this week) with whatever funds pay for that, aren’t they wasting time & money doing that when they could be operating leaf pickerupers instead and not leaving the streets a mess of even soggier leaves now that they’ve (the leaves, that is) been cleaned?

Something I found interesting was that last year when I called to request clean-up of a nearly 1-inch crust of crab apples on a busy part of N Williams, the maintenance person I spoke with suggested to me that “maybe it’s time to put the bike away.” This was before Halloween. Isn’t this city all about it’s “bike friendliness”? What was that..Platinum Level Bicycle-Friendly City in a temperate climate…we suggest putting your bike away in the fall…so we don’t have to clean up for your safety. yup. awesome.

Jeff TB
Guest
Jeff TB

I prefer a “Leaf Fine”. Take care of your leaves or you get fined. Seems that citizen-based citations would be a good vehicle for enforcement.

the future
Guest
the future

i agree with lenny but we also need to lessen the amount of leaves being trucked around. it is expensive + polluting. we have designated areas of our property (standard 50×100 portland lot) as beds where we can rake the leaves so that they can compost over the winter. similar to disconnecting downspouts connected to the storm sewer, we need to resolve this leaf problem on our property, not by shipping it away.

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

How about a rock tax? (not to be confused with iraq tax)…

For those who fail to sweep up the sidewalks after the roads have been sanded, and the snow has melted?

Take the money made and use it to sweep the roads clean right after the snow is gone.

alan cordle
Guest

Ugh. I am the proud “owner” of two sweetgum trees in Irvington (lower number street — I say this because not every part of the hood is rich). I put owner in quotes because the city technically owns these trees, though my partner and I are the ones who care for them. The leaves on them are still mostly green on November 21, with a few yellows. I estimate at least 5-6 more times that I’ll have to rake the entire front yard this season, because they drop later than every other species. And that’s the number of times after the last (of two) city sweeps next week. Then the gumballs will drop, and finally those little whirlygig things. It’s a year-round adventure in yard work, and I would not use a blower. The new lawn debris cans hold approximately 1/50th of the total amount that will fall from these trees this year, so let’s be real about taxing me on trees that aren’t even mine and work I do for the city for free. Sorry Sam, I’m normally a fan, but this is a terrible idea.

mmann
Guest

I agree with “the future” (# 8). Hauling leaves by truck is dumb. It’s a resource that should be used by local residents. Mulch your beds, give it neighbors to mulch their beds, wheel it (wheelbarrow, bike trailer) to the closest community garden. But please, lets find a way we can use it before we ask someone else to burn gas and haul it away. And don’t even get me started with leaf blowers….

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Perhaps the speed limits should be seasonally lowered in these leaf zones…for the safety of bike traffic (and pedestrians) who have to travel further out in the lane?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Mulching and composting is great, but not everyone is going to do that. I still think the idea of weekly yard waste pickup in November is a good one.

Fortunately leaves aren’t a problem for me personally. In early November when we start seeing a few frosty mornings on the westside where I work, I start running a studded tire on the front of my commuter bike. Punches right through the leaves to the hard pavement below as well, so I don’t give them a second thought.

Capturedshadow
Guest
Capturedshadow

I spent most of Saturday raking leaves, borrowing a pickup, and hauling them away. I would rather have spent the time riding my bike so I would be willing to pay a tax for service that would have done the loading and hauling for me.

John Replinger
Guest
John Replinger

The “unfairness” that I was refering to in my statement at the Council meeting on Wednesday was that I have to pay to take my leaves to the leaf depots while those who put them in the streets don’t pay at all. I was not necessarily complaining that some areas get leaf collection while others don’t.

We compost what we can, fill our yard debris container every week (including storing some for future collection), and hauling to the leaf depot.

I actually had a proposal that I mentioned at Council, but which has received no attention – treat it like a SnoPark permit. Purchase a permit to put leaves in the street for a certain short period in advance of City leaf collection. Like the SnoPark program, which pays for plowing of parking areas in the ski areas, it would be user pays. With my suggested leaf program, if you had another, legal way to manage your leaves, you wouldn’t pay a fee. Maybe that’s unrealistic.

Like some of you, I’ve narrowly avoided spills on some of the leave clogged streets. I want something better and safer, but I’ve been villified and harassed for my efforts.

John Lascurettes
Guest

For people that are concerned about composting the leaves: do you know that the city is not composting them? I actually assume they are.

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

If you want people to do something, you have to give them an incentive, not tax them.

Give people a small tax credit if they compost their leaves or deliver the leaves to a community garden instead of sweeping them into the street. This could be a discount on their garbage/waste bill.

Just a thought…

Maculsay
Guest
Maculsay

It’s so easy to buy 10 feet of hardware cloth, make a cylinder, and start composting. Lot’s of people do this out here in the outer NE (where it’s easier to see the backyards, of course). When I lived downtown, I noticed the ritual of everyone shoving their leaves into the streets, knowing that the city was coming.

While the city does compost these leaves, it sure makes more sense to attempt closing the loop as much as possible at each residence, and the overflow from the yards with tons of leaves can eventually trickle through the normal recycling containers.

Adding a tax seems like it would encourage the less desirable behavior.

Dillon
Guest
Dillon

I go back at night with a snow shovel and throw the leaves back in the yards.

John Replinger
Guest
John Replinger

A couple of you have hit the nail on the head – charging people for doing something makes it less likely they will do that. So, why is it free for people to put their leaves in the street and there are fees for delivering them to the leaf depots?

Hart
Guest
Hart

Leaf blowers need to be banned.

mabsf
Guest
mabsf

Since we all breathe the air cleaned by trees, enjoy their blossoms in spring and their shade in summer I think we all – the city of Portland – should take care of it. Why not handle it like the snow on the sidewalks? House owners have to take care of the side walk walk ways, the city does the streets!

PdxMark
Guest
PdxMark

This thread is very funny.

I’ve lived in and ridden through neighborhoods with and without the city leaf clean-up service. The amounts of leaves left on the street is, on average, about the same either way. Without leaf clean-up most people eventually get the street in front of their house cleaned up, and they almost never rake/blow leaves from their yard into the street. In places with the leaf clean-up it is a common practice to rake/blow leafs into the street, making the street worse until the scheduled clean-up finally comes through. Hence, on average, the streets are about the same with or without clean-up.

As for composting on-site, I think people aren’t considering how many leaves the large shade trees drop and how relatively small inner-Portland lots are. A compost heap with all the leaves from some of the larger trees could take-up significant portions of the yards at those houses. Even a mid-size tree can require a significant compost heap. I know, I used to have a house with a mid-sized tree and a compost heap, and it was possible only because there happened to be an out-of-the-way nook beside the house because of how the house was situated on the lot. Leaves from the large trees, as evidenced by the huge heaps of leaves on the streets under those trees, ought to make it clear that in-place composting of that many leaves in impractical if anyone is going to have a yard that’s anything other than a compost site.

As for the leaf removal tax — I resented leaf removal when I lived in neighborhoods without it, but I doubt that the city can make the service city-wide with some sort of tax increase. I don’t know if it’s the case, but I think an objective rule for what neighborhoods qualify for leaf removal, based on size & density of street trees, and leave it as it is.

Icarus Falling
Guest
Icarus Falling

It should be illegal to sweep your leaves into the street.

Put them in yard debris bags, and wait for the proper day to have them picked up.
Or try composting.

That is the proper thing to do.

I can’t believe they are considering a leaf tax!!!

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

re leaves and bikes: bikelanes, routes, bikeways, etc. should be the first in line for clean up by BOM, regardless of “leaf zone” or no “leaf zone.”
Just as bus lines should get sanding/ snow removal first, bike routes should get leaf removal first. So easy for Sam to do; just a phone call.

Ron H
Guest
Ron H

I live in inner SE portland on a 33×80′ corner lot (yes, the proverbial postage stamp). We have two mature birches and one mature walnut tree on our planting strips. The three trees produce prodigious amounts of leaves. Still, we manage to rake them from the sidewalks, strips and even the street into bags and barrels to be taken away by the city contracted haulers. Raking leaves is part of the work required by those who like big trees. It’s not that tough. It’s actually good for you. Why are so many people so frigging lazy?!

Ron H
Guest
Ron H

Oh yeah, the question at hand: I feel an incentive is probably the best way to curb (pardon the pun) the practice of blowing/raking leaves into the streets. On a side note, I’d be in favour of a ban on leaf blowers in the city. Save electricity/gas, save the air, save money, improve your fitness, lower your healthcare costs. It’s all good.

joe
Guest
joe

the BTA should get on this. $3 everytime a new tree is bought in oregon.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

Icarus..it is illegal …..no body cares.

I agree with Lenny…having the different collection services come by weekly, instead of biweekly, during late October – Mid December would be very helpful…I know I have a pile of leaves on my property right now I can’t do anything with since all 3 of my bins are full…
add a few bucks on the bill that month, employ some people to pick them up…

everyone wins.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Composting on site, despite certain complications it can represent, should be done more often as a matter of course. Gardens and landscapes should be designed or redesigned to accommodate this basic garden function.

The problem of too many leaves for individual residences to compost on site could be solved more practically if neighborhoods had a lot within their neighborhoods designated as a compost facility. A close-in compost area like this could make it possible for people to actually trailer leaves to the compost area by bike.

A couple other things: it’s not really necessary to have a compost bin, or make one of those cylindrical affairs out of chicken wire to compost leaves. Leaves will break down just fine if loosely arranged in a berm in the shape of your own choice. Leaf blowers; they’re still noisy, but electric leaf blowers are far less noisy than gas powered ones, and they don’t stink. More hand raking is required with them, but they do a great job for follow-up.

jami
Guest

in addition to tree and bike taxes, i propose special new taxes to disincentivize books, teaching certificates, and smiling at people you pass on the street.

it just makes sense.

nibo
Guest
nibo

Beyond this, a little education wouldn’t hurt in the least. I live in NW and some of the areas have some pretty mulched up, slick leaf piles that force me into the road instead of slipping and falling into gross, gooey detritus. However, the drivers can get pretty upset if you’re in their lane when there is obviously a bike lane, piles of leaves or not. I was lucky this morning that the lady who honked the horn of her SUV (about 3 feet behind me) for just this reason didn’t startle me so much that I fell off my bike.

mmann
Guest

I want to point out how a lot of this “problem” is based on our silly addiction to lawns. Why not leave the leaves on the ground? Even though it’s better for the grass (and much quicker compost-wise) to let the leaves decompose on sight, most folks feel compelled to get them piled up and out of there. Is it the color? the clutter? Even a city lot can operate as a closed system – no chemicals in and no compost out. I agree with the original post – they can be a hazard to bikes on the shoulder. I was just trying to point out that we don’t “need” to use trucks to haul so many around town, regardless of whether they eventually get turned into compost somewhere.

metal cowboy
Guest

Not rich, but do own one of those homes on Willamette Blvd with massive leaf producing trees. Here’s what I have done outside of any tax or the prospect of using literally 100-150 bags to package up all the leaves, then pay by the bag for them to be hauled away by truck.

I have met ith the street sweeper/leaf drivers when they come by at the beginning of the season. I have found out when they have our street scheduled for the late fall sweep and collection, then I hand rake my leaves, the ones I don’t use for compost, holiday turkey hand feathers , wreathes etc., into the street the night before – he arrives in the morning or by noon, all the leaves are gone – tech they are an obstruction but for only one morning. I have taken it upon my self to go to all my neighbors this year and let them know that Dec 1st in the big leaf sweep, so hold your leaf to the street sweeping until the night before or morning of. It’s actually working, three of my four neighbors have halted the great leave exodus to the street. I’m not saying this is a perfect idea and I am breaking the deal a bit by sweeping leaves into the street but only for a few hours rather than months.

Ron H
Guest
Ron H

To all those who think just leaving the leaves on the lawn works. It doesn’t, at least, not for many. If you had the number and kind of trees many of us do, the sheer volume of leaves that drop each autumn would overwhelm any effort to successfully compost on one’s tiny city lot. And any effort made certainly wouldn’t be complete by the following spring or summer. What’s more, those leaves won’t stay on the lawn all winter. We have this strange phenomenon called “wind” that tends to pick leaves up off flat surfaces like lawns and spread them onto other flat surfaces like streets. For some homeowners, the best solution is large scale composting like that done by the city.

JD
Guest
JD

The new “leaf tax” is only for the people who live in the high leaf areas. I imagine the $5.50 or so other areas pay per household for the high leaf area clean up will be removed or used for other purposes.

It may be $55 per household per year if there are 100,000 households in the high leaf area…not sure. I would like a credit if I don’t use the service too.

When I talked to the city about this issue recently, I too got a somewhat anti-bike message from the city saying that people will be able to enjoy bikes again in the spring time.

The city law that relates to this is that the property owner is responsible for cleaning out to the center line of the street in front of their property.

Another solution to leaves on lawns is to mulch them with a mower into the lawn. Good for the lawn and easy. We use an electic mower with wind power.

For the rest of the leaves we use some as mulch around bushes and put the rest in a bin in the back. The compost is ready by spring. We use all the leaves from our block.

I am glad the city is at least looking at this problem but I still think that getting rid of the leaf collection program, doubling the police force so we are up to other city standards on per capita police numbers and starting trash law enforcement on the leaves like other cities do would be better.

RyNO Dan
Guest
RyNO Dan

The tribune had a story this week about the leaves, and wasn’t there a willyweek story last year with lots of follow up ? As I was riding in today, I thought to myself, bikepdxorg would be a great place for yet another leaf discussion. Et Voila !

JD
Guest
JD

Sorry my math was wrong on the costs. There are abuot 500k people in Portland. The leaf removal program costs about $550k a year according to the city budget. If there are 3 people per household that is 160k housholds in Portland paying for the program now that is $3.40 per household now.

If there are 10k households in the leaf areas (wild guess) than the cost would be $55 per household more for the high leaf areas.

Coyote
Guest
Coyote

If the street sweeping program money comes of property taxes, wouldn’t the owners of more expensive homes already be paying more toward street sweeping? Just get the streets swept Sam, you can redistribute later.

Paul Tay
Guest

I don’t get it. Simply roll where da leaves AIN’T.

BicycleMike
Guest
BicycleMike

A “leaf tax” are you serious? you must be kidding. As liberal as I am and pro-bike as well I really had to read this article twice before I actually believed it. A leaf tax, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard such a thing.

JD
Guest
JD

In my area the streets mostly have leaves covering from one side to the other. There is no way to roll where they aint unless you take a major detour.

mark
Guest
mark

I would not want to pay for leaves I do not put in the streets. I do not rake my leaves into the street, but my neighbors do. this makes the streets slippery, messy and dangerous. I do the right thing by not raking into the street, so I don’t think I should have to pay for what my neighbors are doing. I think they should just sweep on random days without notice.

eileen
Guest
eileen

I don’t know all the ins and outs, but off the top of my head, this sounds like a pretty dumb idea. How about instead of a leaf tax, a fine for people who rake leaves into the street? I mean, people aren’t allowed to cut down those trees and then you’re going to tax them in addition? Also, it seems like it treads on some pretty sticky land rights issues, like if your leaves fall in your neighbor’s yard, are you responsible for going over there and raking them? So if your leaves just fall into the street? I don’t know.

Steven Vance
Guest

I would prefer a fee for motorists that would go for cleaning up car glass in the streets.

Joe
Guest
Joe

I lived in both Irvington and Laurelhurst and watched as people living in the million dollar homes across the street spent hours the weekend before raking all the leaves off their lawn onto the street.. They did this despite very deliberate language in the leaf pick-up notice that asked them not to… Incredible! Rich bastards!

I think the tax would be good. It would eliminate the worry that some people have about planting trees in the parkway because they are too lazy to pick up the leaves.. someone else can now pick up the leaves for them and they can go ahead and plant that tree.

Zaphod
Guest
Zaphod

I like the leaves.

It creates a different feeling in the street, like a snow day. I know they will be gone soon enough. It makes it unambiguously OK to take the lane and effectively narrows the road. Everyone slows down and the world is a bit more civilized.

The irony is that the increased danger of eating it on the wet leaves or sliding in your car creates safety by causing a natural slow down of all road users. It’s organic traffic calming.

jim
Guest
jim

Well I usually jut remove the storm grate and cram them down the hole, jump on them a litte bit and put the grate back on

dan Kearl
Guest
dan Kearl

Come on people! I’m one those “irvington” homes with large street trees and do have leaves in the street which the city swept up this morning. I pay to have these trees pruned, fix the sidewalks that they damage, clean up after every storm , etc. I can’t take them down, the city does nothing for me except pick up leaves once a year. I think every one benefits from having nice street trees in this city, so quit whining.