Fall is perhaps the most dangerous time of year for cyclists in Eugene. The days get shorter and the rain returns – requiring car drivers to pay more attention to the road and our safety. It’s not unusual for a bike commuter to ride both to and from work in the dark, and the window for daylight recreational cycling shrinks to less then 12 hours.
And then there’s the leaves… and acorns, and sticks, and rocks, and whatever else happens to drop or get blown in to the bike lane this time of year. The leaves stack up, hiding potholes and other debris, or stay thin and wet, making an ice-like surface. Sometimes they pack deceptively tight and kick your wheels out to the side like you’ve hit a curb – making even minimally blocked lanes dangerous. Bike lanes often become unridable, especially at night, forcing riders to “take the lane” or risk a crash.
Luckily for us, the City of Eugene is on our side. 2010 is the second year of the City’s new leaf program. The new program (originally reported on by the Register-Guard in 2009) is a marked change from the program previous to 2009, which actually encouraged people to pile leaves in the bike lanes. The fliers distributed by the City even had a graphic of leaves neatly stacked in the middle of a bike lane, somehow still leaving room for a cyclist and water drainage.
Take the jump to find out what changed, and how you can report blocked bike lanes and paths.
Direct personal contact was made with the offending resident or property owner almost every time a hazard was reported, and in the absence of direct contact, fliers and postcards explaining the new policy were left.
Under pressure from bike advocates and the City Council, city managers changed the leaf program to its current form fall of 2009. Instead of encouraging landscapers to block the bike lanes, they decided to enforce already existing city ordinances which make it illegal to block the public right-of-way, including bike lanes, with leaves and debris. They also designated 25 miles of bike lanes as “high-priority” for weekly cleaning (see PDF at the bottom of this post) and created a website where cyclists could report blocked bike lanes. The River Path is also cleared by leaf blowers about once a week during leaf season.
Landscapers and private property owners were confused by the change, however, and continued to block bike lanes with leaves. Eugene riders documented much of this on the Flickr group Eugene Bike Accessibility Issues. Advocates also worried that the city’s frequent cleaning of bike lanes might actually encourage people to fill them with leaves. City officials addressed these concerns at a March 2010 Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) meeting, covered by WBE here. Allow me to plagiarize myself:
The discussion centered around the enhancements that were made for the 2009 leaf season and their results. The enhancements included the designation of 25 miles of “high priority” on-street bike lanes, the purchase of an additional leaf vacuum to focus on the high priority lanes, and the creation of a 24 hour online form used for reporting leaf hazards.
City officials explained that 2oo9 was especially successful because the weather cooperated. The same crews that clear bike lanes also deal with snow storms and flooding, and the lack of weather issues this year allowed them to focus on leaf collection. 17,ooo cubic yards of leaves were picked up in the 2009 season. This was slightly more than the previous year. Most were delivered to citizens and community gardens, and only 400 cubic yards (2%) were taken to recycling areas. None of the leaves went to a landfill.
The additional leaf vacuum was able to clear the priority bike lanes fully every week, with the exception of three weeks that contained holidays. On a personal note, I found the lack of weekend and holiday cleanup to be one of the failings of last year’s leaf program, since lanes that were blocked on Friday stayed blocked until at least the following Monday.
There was concern among cycling advocates about whether or not the clearing of the blocked lanes promptly was rewarding the bad behavior of the offenders. City officials assured the BPAC that direct personal contact was made with the offending resident or property owner almost every time a hazard was reported, and in the absence of direct contact, fliers and postcards explaining the new policy were left. The city also sent a representative out to local landscaping companies to explain the new policies. According to the officials, there were very few repeat violations. They also helped educate violators and other frustrated property owners about alternative methods for leaf disposal.
On a personal note, I’ve noticed that most of the people I reported to the city last year have kept their leaves out of the bike lanes this year. That seems like success! Friday’s Register-Guard has a good article about the leave program, and mentioned the issue of educating violators:
[City spokesman Eric Jones] concedes that there were some negative reactions last year to the changes.
“We got some complaints â€¦ but (we tried) to give people as many options and alternatives as possible, and we came up with many creative opportunities to take care of unwanted leaves,” he said. [...]
The city as yet has not had to deal with repeat offenders who blatantly disregard the new regulations, Jones said. Should such a situation arise, the city could start legal proceedings in the form of a “nuisance abatement” action. But Jones said the city hopes it doesn’t come to that.
When you encounter a bike lane or path blocked by leaves, you can report it via the City’s website, WBE’s Hazard Reporting Guide, or call (541) 682-4800. City officials prefer that people use their website rather than their phone number, because the website makes it easier to keep track of repeat offenders and assure that hazards are cleaned.
If the area is outside of Eugene (Springfield/Glenwood/County), refer to WBE’s Hazard Reporting Guide for information. At the City’s website you can also track the leaf pickup progress, so you can plan your routes to stay on clear streets.
You can also upload a picture of the hazard to the Flickr group Eugene Bike Accesibility Issues. This creates a public record of the hazard and you can include a link in the picture in your report to the City, aiding them in locating the hazard.
Click here to download a PDF flier about the City of Eugene leaf program, which you can give to people whom you’d like to politely inform about the City’s “new” policies regarding leaves in the bike lane. You also may want to familiarize yourself with Oregon Revised Statutes 814.420 and 814.430 (PDF), which state that bicyclists can leave the bike lane and ride in the “car” lane “when reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions,” including debris.
Below is a PDF of the “high priority” bike lanes which are cleaned weekly.