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EDITORIAL: Cyclists win the leaf war

The Register-Guard: EDITORIAL: Cyclists win the leaf war

“High priority” lanes must remain leaf-free

Appeared in print: Thursday, Nov 19, 2009

Chicago gets snow. Eugene gets leaves. Both cities have an excess of nature’s winter bounty.

After several years of ambiguity, though, Eugene has adopted a firm stance on one of its biggest leaf-related issues: Residents may not pile leaves in any “high priority” on-street bike lane.

Some 25 miles of high priority bike lanes have been identified. Most of them are curbside; that is, the bike lane extends from the curb several feet out to a painted line.

A few days ago, Mailbag contributor Anita Sullivan noted that for city pickup purposes leaves must be placed a foot away from the curb but “must not block bike or traffic lanes.” She asked: “Would someone please show me the pencil-thin line in the street where I might be allowed to place my wet leaves?”

It was a fair question. We repeated something similar in a recent conversation with Eric Jones, official spokesman for the city public works department. He provided the information that we’re passing along here.

The essence is that residents may not pile leaves in high priority bike lanes. Postcards to that effect have been sent out to the 1,700 people who live along the streets with those lanes. The main purpose is to ensure the safety of wet-weather bike riders, who have lobbied hard for this policy.

Legally, another factor enters. The city code makes residents responsible for “permitting a nuisance” that causes injury or loss. A cyclist’s fall caused by wet leaves could qualify, leaving the property owner responsible, not the city.

So if many people effectively have to keep their leaves out of the street and are unable to take advantage of the city’s pickup service, what are they to do?

Well compost, of course, and use the nutritious product in vegetable gardens and flower beds. But for a variety of reasons, many can’t, or won’t, take that approach.

Their next best alternative, Jones said, is to use the yard debris containers provided by their garbage haulers, which are picked up periodically just as are their regular garbage and recycling containers.

But what if people have too many leaves for any of those choices? Jones’ only suggestion for them was to haul excess leaves to one of the local private yard debris recyclers, such as Rexius or Lane Forest Products.

In any case, the city is not going to retreat. “This year the line has been drawn,” said Jones, who is a mild-mannered and pleasant person. “In the past couple of years, we tried to compromise by putting in a narrow strip for leaves along the bike lanes, but it just didn’t work.”

Jones did say the public works department will, on request, send people out to offer advice on individual properties.

“Most reasonable people can find an alternative,” he said hopefully.

If you wonder why Eugene has so much trouble with leaves, consider that the city has roughly 100,000 trees in what Jones likes to call its “urban forest.” Most of these trees are mature adults with maximum leaf producing capability. Jones said that according to “one estimate,” an average street tree will put out 200,000 leaves.

We doubt that number, but we don’t intend to check it. We’re happy to concede that Eugene trees produce a lot of leaves.

Jones, who is himself a commuter cyclist, added one other numerical fact: In addition to the 25 miles of high priority on-street bike lanes, the city maintains another 55 miles of on-street lanes plus 40 miles of off-street lanes, such as the bike paths that run through parks and along waterways.