Special gravel coverage

Our annual leaves-in-bike-lanes post

Posted by on November 6th, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Leaves in bike lanes-2

New left-side bike lane on NW Everett is very bad right now.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Seems like every year around this time we have to do a post about leaves in the bike lanes.

Portland is a tree city. I love all our street trees! But they also make for messy streets this time of year when rain mixes with wind. When I’m driving my car, leaves on the street don’t bother me at all because there’s zero chance of slipping on them. I can also count on the wheels of other drivers to whisk the leaves out of the lane in very short order. Cars are great street sweepers.

Leaves in bike lanes-1

New bike lane on Williams Ave
not looking so hot.

But when I ride my bike it’s a different story.

All those leaves from other lanes (and from some people who rake them into the street) end up in bike lanes where they sit and pile up. For bike riders, the leaves are a serious safety hazard: They increase stopping distance and it’s very easy to slip and fall on them.

Actually, the leaves themselves aren’t slippery. As our resident Bike Science guru Shawn Small once shared with me, “It’s the gooey film that is created by them.” Yes, it’s true. As the dead leaves decompose (a process sped up by car and bike tires zooming over them), they create a thin greasy film of cellulose. Mixed with water, this film becomes very slippery.

If you want to avoid slipping on them, remember to slow down and brake before turning and avoid quick accelerations.

As for getting leaves picked up sooner rather than later, PBOT wants you to call 823-1700 with an exact location so they can respond accordingly. It’s nice they have a hotline set up for this, but someday it’d be nice to know that they’ve got a list of major bikeways that we can count on being swept before dangerous conditions arise.

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46 Comments
  • Peejay November 6, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I don’t quite get why a phone call should be necessary to get anything officially reported. the year is 2014, PBOT!

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    • Todd Boulanger November 6, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      There is (or was) a CoP app on iTunes for taking photos and reporting operations/ facilities maintenance requests…

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      • Jeff S November 7, 2014 at 5:46 pm

        Yep, PDX Reporter. I’ve had great luck with getting damaged pavement repaired, often very quickly.

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  • Craig Harlow November 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Could we get a legal run-down from a fitting smart-person on what’s allowed and what’s not, with respect to property owners moving their private leaves into the public right of way?

    I could be mistaken–and my google-ing fails to turn up evidence in support–but I’m under the impression that…

    (1) …we *used* to be prohibited from moving leaves from private property into the public right of way at any time, but then…

    (2) …the city change the rules to permit this activity only on the day before, and the day of, the city’s scheduled leaf removal for a given street.

    It’s been my observation that ever since the city gave this inch of concession, that many property owners–both residential and commercial–have taken a mile for themselves by moving all leaves into the street all season long and leaving them there for the city to manage, resulting in more dangerous streets for more days of the year.

    Is my memory faulty in this regard?

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    • MaxD November 6, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      I second this! The Convention Center crews blow the leaves right into the bike lane on Lloyd blvd just west of MLK on both side of the street.

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      • Doug Klotz November 8, 2014 at 6:19 pm

        How about this: I saw a man at the DEQ facility on SE 12th, using a gas-powered leaf blower, blowing leaves off the sidewalk into the street. He then shut if off and went inside the building. DEQ employee? Shouldn’t they be using a rake instead of polluting the air?

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    • John Lascurettes November 6, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      As a homeowner in a NE leaf-removal zone, this year we opted out. We’d rather use the leaves to naturally compost/mulch our lawn-free front yard. But there are homes in the neighborhood that do exactly what you say – they rake the leaves out into the ROW long after the leaf pickup days have ended and leave them there until they’ve broken down and gone to dust (usually around mid summer). Ridiculous.

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    • Todd Boulanger November 6, 2014 at 3:06 pm

      …and likely increased the incidence of leaves plugging up the storm drains. (Its a win win: The employee unions support it for the overtime and the home owners for the ease of making the leaf problem “go away”…if someone were to research it.)

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    • Charley Gee November 6, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      I don’t know if I’m a fitting smart person but it looks like it is always illegal under Portland City Code 17.44.010(A) to put your wet leaves in the roadway or sidewalk (or leave them there) if they prevent free passage. I guess the city is just providing Leaf Day as an exception to that ordinance where they won’t enforce the law. There is no exception contained in the ordinance to the violation.

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      • Craig Harlow November 6, 2014 at 4:12 pm

        Thanks Charley. I had found that as well, but failed to find any kind of notice or other official statement (let alone ordinance) that described the Leaf Day exception.

        Check out NE Multnomah sometime in the next month and watch the leaf crews working in front of the Lloyd Center Mall, the Lloyd Cinemas, and Lloyd Center Tower, blowing leaves from the sidewalks, planters, etc. into the street (read “PROTECTED BIKE LANE) I’ve actually seen them sculpt a lovely and precise strip of a linear leaf pile within the confines of the striped bike lane, ensuring none of their pile creeps into the auto lanes.

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        • Charley Gee November 6, 2014 at 4:18 pm

          Maybe I’ll go watch them, take some photos, and send a letter explaining the violation and what would/could happen if someone slipped on the leaves.

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          • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 7, 2014 at 10:34 am

            let me know when you go out there Charley. I’d love to come along with a camera of my own. We have too few precious protected bike lanes and I won’t let people degrade them!

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        • AG November 9, 2014 at 3:36 pm

          I rode through there Friday and the condos just east of the theater had huge piles in the bike lane that were blown off the property.

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      • John Lascurettes November 6, 2014 at 7:13 pm

        The Leaf Day guides that the city sends out instructs homeowners to rake them into the gutter are of the street on the evening before or the morning of leaf pickup day only.

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        • Craig Harlow November 7, 2014 at 8:52 am

          Ah, right — as I thought.

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        • John Lascurettes November 7, 2014 at 9:47 am

          That should have said ‘into the gutter and off the street”.

          In fact, they state the homeowner is responsible for clearing the leaves to the center of the street. So as it stands, they’re actually instructing us to keep the right of way (aside from the free parking area) clear of leaves – not that all homeowners follow that.

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          • Doug Klotz November 8, 2014 at 6:21 pm

            And they’re instructing homeowners to go stand in the middle of the street raking leaves. Are we supposed to put out traffic cones and direct traffic around us as we work? Or just get hit by passing cars?

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            • John Lascurettes November 9, 2014 at 11:51 pm

              No, most of know to move out of the street when cars come because we have eyes, ears, legs (presumably because we’re able-bodied enough to rake) and a brain.

              And if cars drive so high speed on your street or a such volumes that it’s not practical, you don’t have any leaves in the middle of your street anyway.

              Sheesh.

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  • Josh G November 6, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Count me as a vote for the comeback of some kind of Bike Science column. Might this http://bikeportland.org/2010/10/26/bike-science-keeping-the-rubberside-down-41120 been the last gasp of the fixed gear wars?!

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  • Peter R. November 6, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    29×2.0 Geax Evolution tires are fairly monster truck-ish and greatly reduce my leave (pine needle, roadkill, etc) issues.

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  • Shawn Small November 6, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I was just thinking about this exact thing/article this morning and all the experiments I was trying to to scheme to measure the different coefficients of friction.

    I ended up creating a lot of smushy, stinky leave gooo……
    MORE BIKE SCIENCE!
    Dusts off the lab coat.

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    • daisycaps November 6, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      Does a tire roll faster and with less effort on wet pavement or dry pavement?

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    • El Biciclero November 6, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      I constantly try to keep my mental list of [imagined] friction coefficients updated in my head for when I have to choose between two evils. Quick, what gives better traction on top of asphalt:
      – Wet gravel or new dry leaves?
      – Freshly wet leaves or wet, fibrous leaf-stem residue?
      – Wet, bare pavement or dry sand?
      – Wet leaves or wet gravel?
      – Wet thermoplastic or wet painted lines?
      – Dry manhole cover or dry leaves?

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  • Shawn Small November 6, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Also I almost slipped out in a turn riding in this morning…

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    • matt November 6, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      Ha! I did, tore my cleat right off too when I got the foot out! Good cx practice, but hard on roadie shoes…

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      • Craig Harlow November 6, 2014 at 4:13 pm

        Platform pedals forever! For me, I mean 🙂

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  • Kyle November 6, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I was impressed to see a city street sweeper running up and down Ankeny this morning clearing the leaves.

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    • Craig Harlow November 6, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      I, for one, believe that the city is on top of this as much as their limited resources will allow. Those resources would have better effect if people weren’t moving leaves into the roadway.

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  • rachel b November 6, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Some good fairy finally cleared the bike lane on SW Madison heading east to the Hawthorne. I’d been taking the big lane and today I felt ok about getting in the bike lane. Now, if they’d only remove that horrible giant pavement ridge next to the bus stop just before the bike lane starts. You are doomed if you don’t know about it, esp. when riding in the dark. Beware!

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    • El Biciclero November 9, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      “big lane”. Awesome. I often struggle with what to call this—“car lane”, “main lane”, “The Lane”—I love “big lane”.

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  • Todd Boulanger November 6, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    For most part the City (and we) focus on what new or redesigned facilities makes [or does not make] Portland a bike ‘platinum’ city…while forgetting that it is the ongoing operations and maintenance of these facilities once established that keeps the growth in bikes as all season transport moving upward vs. stalling.

    I am always surprised at the lack of seasonal “opposite side of the street parking rules” in Portland and other local cities (like Vancouver). I would strongly suggest that Bike-Portland readers press their council members (and the PBAC) to adopt such an important safety maintenance practice. If studied post implementation I would assume that the additional staff time to enforce and clean would be well offset by reductions in street flooding (with the overtime to fix) and some parking fine revenue.

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    • Doug Klotz November 8, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      Todd:
      Yes. I lived in Long Beach California, and other LA-area cities. Everywhere, there are signs noting that there’s no parking on this side of the street every Wednesday, for instance, 8 AM to noon. On the opposite side of the street, it’s every Tuesday, 8 AM to noon. It’s not seasonal. It’s all year.

      They don’t sweep the streets every week. I think that most of the time, this ensures that people aren’t parking their cars on the street weeks at a time, or abandoning them. (Abandoned vehicles stand out, and are towed) If you park your car on the street, you just have to move it twice a week. Of course in districts with many apartments, it means you have to park a ways away on those two days.

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  • Alan 1.0 November 6, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    “Actually, the leaves themselves aren’t slippery.”

    Mm, well, maybe so relatively to wet or decaying leaves, and yeah, no problem riding through a light dusting of dry leaves on a street or trail, but take a couple cardboard appliance boxes and a van full of kids to a slope under some leafy trees, even on a dry day, and watch what happens. Be sure there’s a safe run-out!

    I guess the relevant point is, a bit of caution wherever leaves are on the road isn’t a bad idea.

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    • Alan 1.0 November 6, 2014 at 5:14 pm

      PS: more power to you if you s/van/bakfiet and pull the boxes on a trailer

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  • Gumby November 6, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    The recent wind storms have made it even worse because hidden in the leaves are tree branches.

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  • KristenT November 6, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Out here in the SW Burbs, I saw several landscaping companies picking up the leaves from bike lanes and sidewalks in front of businesses they were serving.

    I know here at my work, our landscapers do a fantastic job of keeping the bike lane on Upper Boones fronting our office clear of leaves and landscape debris.

    Just this morning, True Green was sucking up a metric boatload of leaves from the bike lane on Upper Boones just before Durham; didn’t really make a big difference to the massive puddle at the corner that occurred after the first big downpour today, but still!

    Maybe Portland businesses and homeowners with landscaping services should be asking their landscapers to pick up the leaves in their bike lanes. Just a thought.

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    • wsbob November 6, 2014 at 5:05 pm

      “…Maybe Portland businesses and homeowners with landscaping services should be asking their landscapers to pick up the leaves in their bike lanes. …” KristenT

      That’s an excellent idea. It’s what people should be doing, but I think some figure ‘well, the city does that, so we’ll just leave it.” (No pun intended). The city will do it eventually, but in the meantime, what a mess. Keeping the street free of leaves in front of your place is the good neighborly thing to do.

      Also out on the burbs, on Millikan Way, going past the south side of Tektronix’ property and other businesses: Nice bike lane there, but it often has thick layers of pine needles and leaves during this time of year. These conditions make a solid rationale for taking the lane.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu November 6, 2014 at 7:59 pm

        I sweep the bike lane in front of my house. I don’t try to keep the rest of the street clear. Way too many leaves.

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  • Matt November 6, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I almost wrecked very near to where this picture was taken about an hour ago. A car tried to cross Everett and did not see me coming down it. I wasn’t traveling at a crazy speed, but when I hit my brakes I fish tailed and my back tire came off the pavement. I thought for sure I would go ass over teakettle. Combination of hurried drivers, poor lighting and these gooey leaves makes for a scary commute home.

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  • Chris I November 6, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    There is a gnarly patch of slime just south of Prescott on the I205 path.

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  • stephen salter November 7, 2014 at 12:46 am

    about a week ago when travelling eastbound on willamette at Ida i came upon a large build up of leaves in the bike lane. i was forced to exit the lane out of safety at which point i was buzzed by a car and shouted to get back in the f’ing bike lane. so the next day i called the clean up line previously mentioned and actually spoke to a human. unfortunately she seemed very confused why i was calling and it didnt seem that i was talking to the right person. not sure if willamette has been cleaned or not but this time of year its especially sketchy. (its kinda sketchy all the time)

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  • karl D November 7, 2014 at 10:58 am

    Lets see the new Bike Path Sweeper in use 24/7 this month. http://bikeportland.org/2013/11/18/meet-portlands-new-bike-path-sized-street-sweeper-97302

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  • GlowBoy November 7, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    … and with the annual post about the leaves comes my annual reply about how excellently a studded front tire performs on wet leaves. The studs punch through to the pavement below, allowing confident cornering and braking on all but really deep piles of leaves. Not that you can’t still slip, but it adds a LOT of extra peace of mind. And by the time leaf season ends, we will be into the frosty-morning season out here on the westside, so I just put the studs on in early November and leave them on until February.

    I’m not suggesting that the solution is for everyone go out and buy a studded tire — there seems to be plenty of reluctance to try this even when we do get frozen precip here — but if you already have one, this is an excellent time to put it on.

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  • Justin Gast November 7, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I believe it should be illegal for a commercial landscaping operation to just blow leaves into the street and wait for the city to pick them up.

    Many folks don’t know this, but, with the region’s switch to a food only commercial compost system, a hauler is now disallowed from collecting any type of yard debris with commercially-generated food scraps. This means, even if you wanted to sweep up the leaves outside your business, you’d have no where to put them.

    Landscapers have the ability to haul what they handle. They self-haul this material to either the transfer station or a local compost facility. So, why they choose to blow them into the lane and leave them is beyond me (outside of job security). Not saying all landscapers do this (companies like Pacific Landscape Management, Tru Green, and others, are great), but there are WAY TOO MANY that do.

    Such an act by a landscaping company should come with a fine for the first offense and a short-term license suspension for the second offense (e.g., maybe a month). The third offense, your business license is pulled for at least a year. I bet landscapers would take cleaning up leaves seriously then.

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    • KristenT November 10, 2014 at 9:25 am

      I think some landscaping companies do this for a couple of reasons:

      A) they’re not a licensed-insured-bonded-etc landscape company, just some guy with a trailer and some mowers/blowers/rakes.
      2) It’s easier/takes less time to just blow the leaves in a pile and leave them. Probably cheaper, too.
      Cat) They’re a new company and don’t know about taking the leaves to the local composter

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