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Leaf issue also piling up in Eugene

Posted by on December 7th, 2008 at 11:15 pm

(Photo © J. Maus)

Some Eugene residents are concerned that the city’s leaf program puts them at risk, and they’re not going to take it falling down.

The city allows residents to drop their leaves into streets and bike lanes and — according to a story published in Sunday’s Register Guard — some locals want that policy changed because it’s dangerous for bike traffic.

Sound familiar? It should. Many Portlanders have also expressed concern that leaf piles on street shoulders are a safety hazard because they create slippery, dangerous conditions for someone operating a bicycle.

Here in Portland, Mayor-elect Adams has proposed a “leaf tax” to have some neighborhoods begin paying for their own clean-up, but the issue of not piling them in the street to begin with hasn’t been officially challenged.

In Eugene, leaders from bike advocacy group GEARS (Greater Eugene Area Riders) are pushing their city council to abandon the leaf program altogether — in the name of bike safety.

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From the Register-Guard:

They (bike advocates) say the program, intended to protect water quality and prevent street flooding caused by clogged gutters, is a danger to the growing community of bike commuters who commit to riding through the winter.

A spokesman for Eugene Public Works told the paper that this has only become an issue “in recent years” as the number of people riding bicycles in the city has grown.

That same spokesman said he thinks the benefits of recycling all the leaf waste is a “perk that outweighs disadvantages of the program.”

But those “disadvantages” says one woman quoted in the story, could be fatal:

“It’s only a four-month program, but it only takes one swerve to injure or kill a cyclist.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Can any of our Eugene readers chime in with more info?

— Read the full story in the Eugene Register Guard.

(Thanks to reader John A. for the heads up on this.)

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32 Comments
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    Thomas December 7, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    I live in Eugene and I agree that the streets here are in desparate need of cleaning. Just about every bike lane is filled with leaves, in fact, I recently saw a street cleaner that was simply dumping the leaves in the bicycle lanes in order to clean up an auto lane. Its a serious problem and even though I’m a more experienced rider I feel in danger sometimes. If you go to http://www.streetfilms.org and watch the latest video about Boulder, CO you will see that street cleaners there make sure to sweep the bike lanes first thing in the morning. Now that makes a statement about bike saftey. Eugenes current police about dumping your private waste into a public space is apathic and lack common sense.

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    Andy B from Jersey December 7, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Why is this such a big issue out there? Here is New Jersey we’ve go plenty of wonderful tree lined towns but it’s not much of an issue even in towns with great massive street trees. Many towns have taken to using compostable brown bags and all the leaves are bagged so they don’t blow around.

    And if your really smart you just pile them into the garden for mulch and pass on the minor hassle of bagging them like I do.

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    scott December 8, 2008 at 12:42 am

    sadly, here in eugene the bike lanes are not held in the same regards as roads depsite sharing the same space. take those leaves and pile them in front of your house on pearl st in the middle of the traffic lanes and you will be cited for littering. why are the bike lanes excluded from this citation?

    it should be illegal to dump leaves in the street.

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    dan December 8, 2008 at 1:16 am

    This is why people need to learn to footbrake — a longboard skate move that’s very useful on leaves, ice, or other slick surfaces. Plus, it looks cool and satisfies the “must dab” definition that the PPD uses to determine whether you’ve stopped.

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    Kevin Hedahl December 8, 2008 at 6:29 am

    Dan,

    First, putting a foot down in order to slow down may work on a longboard, but is not effective on a bike. Putting a foot down works only when you weight it. If you weight a foot onto the ground while on a bicycle, you are upsetting the balance required to ride a bicycle. It comes down to a two vs. four wheel thing. Sit on your bike seat and put a foot down. What happens? Your bike tips to the side. If you try this on wet leaves and anything happens, you will fall.

    Second, I believe the “must dab” definition from the PPD has been effectively debunked. The PPD stopped using that strategy ages ago.

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  • tonyt
    tonyt December 8, 2008 at 7:03 am

    If you can’t (technically) park your car on the street for more than 18 hours (or something like that) why should you be able to park your leaves on the street.

    It’s public space, there for the use of the public, not storage of an individual’s yard waste.

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    buglas December 8, 2008 at 8:30 am

    I’m in Corvallis where we have a short-term annual leaf collection program in partnership with our local waste company that seems to work well and that is respectful of bicycles. Details are at: http://www.ci.corvallis.or.us/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=517&Itemid=455 Leaf piles are picked up once a week and the streets are swept every two weeks.
    Residents are “encouraged” to use yard waste bins rather than curbside piling if they live along a bike lane. Another spot on the page directs residents to “avoid raking leaves into curbside bike lanes”. Further, we’re directed to pile our leaves no sooner than the day before pickup. While I don’t see that these admonitions have any particular teeth behind them, the program usually works pretty well.
    Some specific examples:
    * I remember one elderly resident who had a bike lane on her side of the street and a bike lane and parking on the far side. She would cart her leaves across the street to the parking spaces – a heroic act and a lot of extra work for her.
    * This year I felt compelled to email one school principal after a team of volunteers on a weekend cleanup project dumped a pile of leaves squarely into a bike lane when there was a parking strip another forty feet away. It seems like it’s just a matter of awareness. The pile disappeared the afternoon of the day I emailed him.

    Of course, Corvallis is not Eugene or Portland. Most of our arterial streets with bike lanes aren’t residential so people aren’t piling leaves there. Most of our residential streets through neighborhoods don’t have or need bike lanes, so the leaf piles aren’t in the traffic flow. The moderate number of streets that are both residential and striped for bike lanes are mostly posted for 25mph, so the traffic issue of dodging an occasional leaf pile in the bike lane isn’t too scary.
    In my estimation, the Corvallis program is a plus. As residents make their leaf piles next to the curb, they also rake the broad sheet of leaves that covers the street in front of their home. It’s much easier to dodge small piles than to face a street where half the width is leaf covered.

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    Coyote December 8, 2008 at 9:26 am

    Many of the bike lanes are nearly impassable in Eugene in the fall. The crazy thing is when people pile the leaves in the bike lane, street sweepers will go around the piles so that they can picked up by other crews.

    I switch over to a mountain bike for the fall to cope. Fortunately, Eugene’s system of paths, lanes, boulevards and quiet streets usually make alternate routes very practical. (BTW in my experience, calling GEARS an advocacy group is a bit of a stretch, their primary focus is recreation.)

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    Shane December 8, 2008 at 11:39 am

    I’m on the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) for the City of Eugene and more specifically I’m on the Safety & Education subcommittee that has the issue of “Clear Pedestrian & Bicycle Ways of Obstructions” as our co-number one priority (along with New Bike Boulevards & Improve Bike Boulevards). We had the public works Leaf Program come and give a presentation to the BPAC in the late summer where we raised many of these issues and they presented some information about the program. The Safety & Ed. subcommittee is working with Public Works staff to research the next best steps to take to fix this problem.

    To say this has become an issue in the past couple years is a bit of a misstatement since I remember this being an issue raised by cyclists back in the ’90s when I first moved back to Eugene and probably has been an issue since the leaf program began. However, it tends to raise in awareness during this time of year and fade off again during the other three seasons.

    However, right now it is more likely than ever that something will really happen on this issue. The BPAC has been re-formed just this year and is working on actions laid out in the Strategic Bicycle & Pedestrian plan unveiled at the end of last year, including this issue. Also, the merger of the Eugene Bicycle Coalition and GEARS has created a stronger Advocacy & Recreation group that can help apply pressure on the city to do something about the issue (Coyote- you should check out the new group which does not have a primary focus on recreation anymore).

    I’m collecting information from the community right now on their concerns and ideas on the leaf program and it’s effect on cyclists (I’ll pull some from this site as well) and hopefully by this time next year we’ll be a step closer to making Eugene an even better place to ride.

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    Nichoals December 8, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I am living in Eugene as well and have had so many problems because of these leaves. It’s horrible. I have fallen making normal speed turns onto streets and have almost been hit while doing so. The leaves are everywhere.

    As of late, I’ve taken up just riding as fast as traffic (even if it kills me) just so I can stay in the road and not annoy traffic.

    We need action.

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    Briana December 8, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    I agree action is needed. I live near University of Oregon campus and see bicyclists ride through piles of leaves because they are not confident enough to go out in traffic. Or, perhaps even worse, it drives these riders to the sidewalk.

    Bottom line – this is not a pleasant experience to bike in. If Eugene wants to promote itself as one of the best places to bicycle in the country, it should take every opportunity to make riding a more enjoyable experience, not a stressful experience.

    This is not a choice between recycling leaves and bicycle safety. There are many models out there to recycle leaves that does not create hazards for bicyclists.

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    Michelle December 8, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    I wiped out on my way out of Albany when I had to stop suddenly due to a pile – no, a hill, a 30 foot long hill – of leaves neatly placed in a bike lane (I signalled and went to leave the bike lane but the car behind me declined to yield, so I had to get back in it in a hurry). Messed up my derailleur too.

    My most recent email from the City of Eugene said:

    “Be sure leaves don’t block sidewalks, bicycle lanes, or traffic lanes. Consider piling your leaves around the corner or across the street if you can do so without placing leaves in a bike lane.”

    but clearly the message is not getting across.

    Is there really no state statue or city rule against leaving things in the road? If so, could the city of Eugene do an education-and-enforcement campaign around this? Or is there a way for residents to call in bike-lane-leaf-piling violations so that the owners of the leaves receive a warning or a ticket?

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    zilfondel December 8, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Oh yes, Eugene. I lived there 5-6 years ago, and had my only bicycle crash – while completely sober and in the middle of the day – right outside of the old Peacehealth hospital while making a left turn on a wet and soggy day. Yep, leaves were to blame, and I skidded completely across an intersection on my leg while only going about 8 mph.

    Luckily I did this right in front of an ambulance (no joke), but all I had was a very minor case of road rash. Suffice to say I don’t trust leaves anymore…

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    zilfondel December 8, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I meant “slid,” not “skidded”

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    Natty December 8, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Leaves … pshaw! … that’s so November. We received our first solid layer (8-10″) of early season “heart-attack” snow on Sunday, followed by steady 30mph winds today … the streets are very shiny 🙂

    Thankfully the studded tyres went on the Surly a couple of weeks ago (a week ahead of the car).

    While leaves are slippery, you should really try black ice for entertainment…

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    Donna December 8, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Andy B from Jersey (#2): Have you ever tried to shovel Pacific Northwest rainy season leaves into a brown paper bag? I grew up in a tree-choked neighborhood in a Detroit suburb and I’ve lived in Oregon 12 years. Believe me when I tell you leaf season here is very different from where you are.

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    Jim December 8, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Absolutely agree that the leaves in Eugene suck…if it’s not the thin wet, slick-as-hell layers, it’s the people who like to make a waist high pile of leaves in the bike lanes. When they’re as high as my top tube I start to have a problem with just trying to plow through them…

    Of course the city has shown again and again that road maintenance is at the bottom of its priority list…especially downtown.

    And Natty, at least you can use studded tires for your problems. We’d need 2 inch spikes for the damn leaves here.

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    Mike December 8, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    I live in Eugene and read that article in the RG. I agree that the leaves are a pia, but I fail to see why it’s such a big deal. As cyclists, we need to share the road. And that means learning to face one’s fears of traffic. I grew up riding before there were bike lanes and you either road to the right or took the lane.

    Yes, I have been been hit by cars, had numerous near misses, gone down on both wet leaves and snow. Yet, that still should not give one reason to fear traffic or road hazards. If someone is so concerned about having to ride the painted lines or move into traffic occassionally, than I tend to think that they’re a very insecure bike handler….which actually makes it more dangerous for themselves and others.

    I’m not advocating that one should be ignorant or reckless about their safety, but if you’re going to ride on the roads, you need to realize that it’s not always going to be under a set of ideal circumstances.

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    dan December 8, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    @ Kevin H, #5.

    “First, putting a foot down in order to slow down may work on a longboard, but is not effective on a bike.”

    Oh? Does that mean that I was imagining all the times that I’ve used footbraking to slow down on sketchy surfaces?

    Of course you can drag a foot to slow a bike, have you ever tried it? On a slick surface, it’s even easier. Advantage is that you know you won’t lock up the wheel (because you’re not using brakes). If you do weight the foot too much, there’s nowhere to fall – you’re already in a tripod of two wheels plus your foot.

    I commute down Lincoln and across Hawthorne, and I footbrake all the time when I’m heading downhill on leaves. Footbraking memorably saved me from wiping out one winter evening when I was coming off an icy Hawthorne bridge onto a red light at Grand.

    I mean, people can do this: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8867862777896510907

    …footbraking, by comparison, is trivial.

    LMK if you’re interested, maybe I’ll put together a skills class 🙂

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    Dave December 9, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Biking aside.
    leaves piled on any surface intended to carry vehicles is dangerous! More than one child has been run over while playing in piled leaves and not being seen by a vehicle operator. Piling leaves in streets and driveways is a poor practice, no matter the angle you view it from.

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    Shane December 9, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    @Mike

    Sure if you’re an adventurous, experienced cyclist it works fine to “face one’s fear” but as we try and get more families, kids, and non-traditional riders out on bikes we need to look beyond what makes 10% of the population comfortable to what makes the majority of people comfortable.
    I work with a lot of families who want to bike to school with their kids and they are happy to do so if they are given the choice of good streets to do it on but if we don’t provide that space people won’t ride.

    Having leaves piled into the bike lane for several months out of the year does NOT provide that environment.

    Having the cavalier attitude that crashing into cars, having near misses & going down due to wet leaves is just part of the ride might work for you but I believe it is wrong. Cycling does not have to be that way, we can do better.

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    Chris Brandt December 9, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I also live in Eugene, bike commuting to/from work each day. As the daylight disappears for the nightly ride home, the leaf piles appear each fall. With the added challenge of rain, it can be very dangerous, even for an experienced rider.

    I think the leaf collection program is a great one. There are certainly some environmental benefits. There are also negative side effects of the program. I believe people should try to use as much as they can locally “on site” for their plant beds, adding nutrients and a valuable mulch cover. The leftover should be bagged or deposited in an approved location, ONLY per the clearly defined pickup schedule.

    Leaf piles deposited at the wrong time are a serious life safety issue. You wouldn’t allow someone to park their broken down car in the traffic lane would you? How about an old car tire. A tree? A dead deer? No. It would be picked up very quickly.

    Leaf piles that are in the street, occupying designated bike lanes, should be given priority for pickup. Seems like an easy enough starting point. Many of my commuting routes with designated bike lanes have had leaf piles present for 3-4 weeks. Meanwhile, other streets I ride on have been picked up very quickly.

    It almost seems like locations where there are parking spots are given a “pickup priority” over cyclist safety in the bike lanes. Pearl Street South-bound between 13th and 18th has a lot of bike traffic, and is a major arterial route. How could these piles be allowed to sit there for so long?

    I’ve had some bad experiences with aggressive drivers who don’t seem to understand that it is necessary for a bike commuter to leave the bike lane (even with advance notice, a hand signal, and adequate lighting/reflectors) when there is a giant pile of hazardous wet leaves 12″-24″ tall in my path. These mounds can be difficult to see in the dark and avoiding them often requires a quick reaction time. It’s not like you can just lock up your brakes and stop on greasy butter.

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    Coyote December 9, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Shane, If you are taking something to the City, prioritizing the leaf pick up on few major routes would do a lot to improve things. More frequent pick-ups on Pearl, High, River Road, 5th, 12th, and 18th, would at least improve safety on major N-S and E-W routes that really get leafed.

    You might want to mention that the City does a good job on the river paths.

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    Andy B from Jersey December 9, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Donna # 16

    That’s what I figured and trust me I understand the issue. I feel for ya’!

    Still we do get a good deal of rain in Autumn here in New Jersey particularly in November. I’ve had problems in areas with lots of trees when it was wet but never nothing that a little prudence on the bike wouldn’t solve just like when it snows.

    Interesting note: One of the biggest problems NJ TRANSIT has with it’s commuter trains is wet leaves falling onto the rails which eliminates all traction. This condition cripples rail service on a couple of lines several times a year.

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    Mike December 9, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Shane,

    Well said and I understand your point. But I’m not trying to be cavalier. What I’m saying is that there will always be an inherent amount of danger to riding on the road. And that if one approaches it from a state of fear, than they have the potential to actually be more dangerous because they lack confidence in their abilities. Yes…we should all be cautious about traffic and hazards, but we should not be fearful of them. I think of it like driving in the snow and ice, the only way you’ll get better at it is to do it. And not having to get used to it only limits your skills. This goes for kids as well as adults. If we teach them to be fearful of every road hazard, than they’ll grow up with that mind set.

    I’m all for cyclists’ rights, but demanding that the city accomodate every potential threat is a bit ridiculous. It’s hazardous when it rains, should the city come out and dry the bike lanes off so one doesn’t slip on them?

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    Shane December 10, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Mike,

    The issue here is that the City currently is creating this ‘potential threat’ by telling people it is okay to pile leaves in the bike lane. This is different than natural hazards such as rain, snow, or even leaves that naturally fall in the bike lane. We are talking about piles of leaves placed there on purpose. It is similar to people parking in bike lanes. We don’t just say “oh well, it’s part of cycling to have to deal with cars parked in the bike lane” and not do anything about it. We make it illegal to park there and then ask the police to enforce that (to what level they do varies of course).
    I agree that there are inherent dangers to cycling, just as there are inherent dangers to driving, jumping on a trampoline, or taking a shower and the best way to deal with many of those hazards is education. I actually like the idea of doing BikeEd classes in the rain since that is an important factor of riding in the NW and we need to teach confident riding to kids and adults. That being said there are many things we can do to make cycling more safe and more comfortable for everyone and not allowing leaf piles in the bike lane is one of them.
    Keep those comments and ideas coming- meeting with the BPAC is tomorrow.

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    Mike December 10, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Shane,

    But the city isn’t telling people to dump leaves in the bike lane. They’re saying to not block them, but some people do anyways.

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    Shane December 10, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Yes, they say “don’t block bike lanes” and right next to that they show leaves IN the bike lane, in a nice little row with a cyclist on one side and a little stream of water going down the drain on the other… not much of a reality shot. They say don’t “block” the bike lane but that it is okay to put leaves there. It shouldn’t be okay.

    To see their diagram check: http://tinyurl.com/5v7bxp
    and click on “Tips for Safely Piling Leaves in the Street” on the right hand column

    or this pdf: http://tinyurl.com/64ygg4

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    Mike December 10, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Shane,

    Why shouldn’t it be ok to put the leaves there as long as you still have room to ride around them without going outside the bike lane? I think our ideas of what is “blocking” the bike lane are different.

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    Coyote December 10, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Mike, would it be acceptable to put leaves in a car lane as long as the cars could get by?

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    Mike December 11, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Coyote,

    As long as they’re not impeding traffic nor blocking the storm drains and the city allows it, sure. Actually they do that because not every road in town has a bike lane.

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    Shane December 11, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Okay, I’ll just have to disagree with you on this one.

    I think if a pile of leaves is placed in the bike lane (greater than what ‘naturally’ falls there) I think that is blocking. Any amount of leaves placed there creates more of a hazard than needs to be there. We’ll see what the City and the BPAC have to say about this issue at tonight’s meeting…

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