Our annual leaves-in-bike-lanes post

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.

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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