Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

leaf collection (and cyclists)

31. October 2006 • Bruce Fields
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leaves in Liberty street bike lane

An arborupdate reader says:

Leaf collection time is already upon us here in Ann Arbor and the way we do it here is to rake them into the street exactly one day before the neighborhood is scheduled to have a giant front-end loader scoop them all together into a giant pile and then load them into a dump truck. When is your neighborhood scheduled for pickup? Consult page 15 of handy publication in PDF format called Waste Watcher which you may well have received in the mail as well.

There’s various reasons why it’s really not very neighborly to rake leaves into the street any more than one day before scheduled pickup. As this photograph illustrates, one of those reasons is: this is where cyclists ride! This shot is along a street scheduled for pickup tomorrow, so I couldn’t really do anything except exchange awkward smiles with the woman who was raking them straight into the lane I was riding in.



  1. Leaf collection time is also a time of inclement weather and limited daylight. And since leaf collection happens during the week, it is practical to rake the leaves into the street the few days preceding the scheduled pick-up. Cyclists can move over to the road.


       —I Hate Leaf Blowers    Oct. 31 '06 - 02:36AM    #
  2. I-Hate-Leaf-Blowers says: ” ... it is practical to rake the leaves into the street the few days preceding the scheduled pick-up. Cyclists can move over to the road.”

    I think what you mean is, ”... it is more convenient to rake …”

    Yes, cyclists can move over into the road. And in cases where there’s no bicycle lane, they can move to the center of the road lane. In fact, cyclists can undertake all kinds of measures within the traffic laws to contend with the unnecessary obstacles their city-ordinance-flauting, leaf-raking and/or leaf-blowing neighbors provide them with.

    Pleading that inclement weather and fading light prevent you from the neighborly excercise of pushing the raked-at-your-convenience leaves from the lawn extension into the street (in accordance with the ordinance) strikes me as simple excuse-mongering for raking the leaves into the street on your own personal timetable.

    So while it’s certainly convenient to rake leaves into the street whenever you see fit base on your own personal circumstances, it’s still practical to comply with the ordinace and to foster a spirit of neighborliness towards cyclists as a bonus.


       —HD    Oct. 31 '06 - 03:43AM    #
  3. Doesn’t anyone shred their leaves for compost?


       —John Q.    Oct. 31 '06 - 05:51AM    #
  4. Where I live, there is too much automobile traffic to even think of putting leaves in the street.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Oct. 31 '06 - 08:12AM    #
  5. I don’t shred them, but I do compost 95% of them (and there are lots of big oaks in our area.) I only rake into the street those that may have been contaminated by the road surface, drips from vehicles, or salt (after the snow hits.) The pile starts out about six feet high and breaks down to a few inches of dirt by late spring after the bugs and worms have done their thing. (It won’t compost, or ‘cook’, during the winter, but the bugs work at it whenever it’s warm enough.) If I get around to turning it, it goes faster.


       —Steve Bean    Oct. 31 '06 - 02:28PM    #
  6. You are right, it is convenient AND practical. Sorry, my mistake. In this case, the city provides a service of convenience paid for by our tax dollars. Cyclists can also take an alternate route. Not so convenient for them, but life’s not fair. Get a car and you will have to contend with the inconvenience of road construction. And where I live there is a lot of automobile traffic too. In fact, it is the main artery through the OWS. The trick is to wet the leaves to keep them from flying around.


       —I Hate Leaf Blowers    Oct. 31 '06 - 04:17PM    #
  7. So, my leaves will be picked up on Thursday for example. So should I take Wednesday off of work to rake my leaves into the street?

    As a cyclist, I appreciate wanting to keep the roads clear. But I can’t afford to time my leaf raking to the hour.

    There has got to be a better solution.


       —Just a homeowner    Oct. 31 '06 - 04:40PM    #
  8. I think HD’s point is that you can rake them as close to the curb as possible at any convenient time and then rake them into the street right before your appointed time. We have a good-sized corner lot and it really doesn’t take long to rake the leaves that last three feet. The leaf piles don’t only pose a threat to cyclists, I have seen cars slide on them too. It is scary though, to stand in the street raking after dark (we did it last night and had to keep dodging cars as they sped down the street). Too bad the city doesn’t have those big vacuum trucks like the U does that just suck up the leaves so people could just leave them on the extensions and not sweep them into the street at all. We compost about half of our leaves, mulch about a quarter of them, and have the city take the rest. With several big maple trees, we just don’t have enough room on our property to store them all.


       —Juliew    Oct. 31 '06 - 05:10PM    #
  9. Thank you Thank you!

    As I’ve bike to and from work these last few days I was thinking of making this very same post.

    In addition to the road hazard that leaved prematurely raked into the road present, isn’t there an environmental concern? I seem to remember reading something about that last time that City Council talked about cutting back leaf collections.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Oct. 31 '06 - 06:46PM    #
  10. “Cyclists can also take an alternate route. Not so convenient for them, but life’s not fair.”

    Thanks Dad. Next time I’m riding through the city, I’ll make sure to tune into the local news and get my “Who has raked their leaves into the bike lane” and plot a course that gets me around the piles.

    I understand the dilemma: There are only a handful of bike lanes running throughout the city. Cyclists can’t just go around them, any more than homeowners can time their yardwork to the hour. But when it comes to balancing my safety with your convenience, I’d hope that my safety would win out.


       —Daniel Adams    Oct. 31 '06 - 07:06PM    #
  11. “There are only a handful of bike lanes running throughout the city. Cyclists can’t just go around them.”

    I’m not quite sure what you mean. To go around an obstacle in a bike lane, you make a lane change that’s very similar to what you’d do when driving a car: prepare well ahead of time, look back over your left shoulder, negotiate the lane change with any approaching traffic as necessary, then signal left and move over. Repeat to move back to the right after the bike lane becomes clear again.

    See the “changing your lane position” section of Bicycling Street Smarts, chapter 3 for a more detailed explanation.

    That’s not to say that it isn’t a little rude to leave the bike lane blocked indefinitely. But
    this sort of maneuver is absolutely essential if you’re even going to get anywhere on a bike; even without leaves, there are going to be delivery vehicles, cars turning right, random debris, potholes, etc.


       —Bruce Fields    Oct. 31 '06 - 07:38PM    #
  12. Son, don’t thank me. Your safety is ultimately your responsibility.


       —Do I look like your father?    Oct. 31 '06 - 08:20PM    #
  13. Bruce:

    Let me rephrase…

    When I say “cyclists can’t just go around them,” I mean that expecting cyclists to manuver in and out of bike lanes negates the very purpose of a bike lane – to get cyclists out traffic and off sidewalks. Occasionally dodging a pothole or other obstacle seems reasonable; evading leaf piles left out in the street for days at a time does not


       —Daniel Adams    Oct. 31 '06 - 08:29PM    #
  14. “Your safety is ultimately your responsibility.”

    My personal safety is my responsibility until you do something that makes my life unnecessarily dangerous. At that point, it becomes your problem.


       —Daniel Adams    Oct. 31 '06 - 08:39PM    #
  15. “I mean that expecting cyclists to manuver in and out of bike lanes negates the very purpose of a bike lane…”

    Cyclists aleady have to maneuver in and out of bike lanes. I like to make left turns, for example.

    ”... to get cyclists out traffic and off sidewalks.”

    Cyclists in the bike lane are a part of traffic, as they should be, and getting cylists out of traffic is very definitely not the purpose of bike lanes.


       —Bruce Fields    Oct. 31 '06 - 08:39PM    #
  16. Bruce:

    I’m confused. Is this some sort of strange semantic hang up or ideological sticking point that I’m not aware of, or are you really telling me that the purpose of a bike lane is not to get bikes out of car lanes and vice versa?

    I don’t have a background in urban planning, and I don’t have any sort of position staked out on exactly how bike lanes should be incorporated into an overall transportation plan, but I have used a bike lane and know what one looks like: A white line (sometimes two) separating bikes from pedestrians and automobiles. Evidently, I’ve been mistaken all these years; white lines painted on road surfaces aren’t there to separate motorists (and cyclists) from each other. They exist for some other mysterious purpose and “very definitely” not for keeping cyclists in their own lane. I’d be interested to know how I got it so horribly wrong.

    As an aside: From your post, I suspect that this is really about my having the temerity to suggest that bikes should, for the most part, stick to bike lanes. Having worked in a bike shop, I have some familiarity with the argument, common amongst the commuting crowd, that cyclists have a “right” to be ride amongst several hundred tons of fast-moving steel. Not surprisingly, I also got to know a number of local riders who, often in the process of purchasing a new bike and helmet, complained of their recent misfortune in having been struck and injured by some of the aformentioned steel. Assuming for the moment that I’m totally wrong and that bike lanes are there to be used at the discretion of cyclists, wouldn’t cyclists be better off if they had reliable and well-developed bike lanes and stuck to them?

    And, as a final aside, yes: I am aware of the fact that cyclists must, on occasion, move out of the bike lane in order to turn or avoid an obstacle. You might have inferred as much from post 13, in which I make a point of noting that moving out of a bike lane something that happens and is totally reasonable.


       —Daniel Adams    Oct. 31 '06 - 11:44PM    #
  17. No, I’m the bigger bicycle zealot!

    Ahem.

    Yes, yes, of course, bicyclists are perfectly within their rights to travel in vehicle lanes, being vehicles. And, yes, even when there’s a bicycle lane, a cyclist will want to merge into the general traffic lane before turning left, or to avoid obstacles such as the good Catholics who think the bike lane on Cross Street is a parking zone on Sundays. All that is true. Bicyclists shouldn’t demand bike lanes on all roads, or lead themselves to believe that such lanes are inviolated when they exist.

    But changing lanes is dangerous. It’s a behavior that ranks right up there behind “entering an intersection” in putting you at risk for an accident. Especially since, if a motorist sees a cyclist in a bike lane, they’re probably going to idly assume that the cyclist is going to stay there. If the cyclist is having to weave in and out of the bike lane every third yard because of leaf piles, that could definitely be considered an unusual condition, and not something that the cyclists should be told to merely suck up and deal with. (Additionally, it’s hard to maintain constant speed/pace when you have to weave back and forth to avoid obstacles, checking over your shoulder for cars each time, a few times a block.) At that point, the bike lane may as well not exist.

    But, honestly, how hard is it to rake your leaves to the lawn extension at your leisure, and then, the night before pickup, rake them a whole extra foot into the street? Is it really necessary to create traffic hazards to save yourself the hassle of raking your leaves a whole foot the night before pickup? Do you happen to keep your recycling bins right at the curb, too, and walk all your bottles out to it as you use them, so that you don’t have to suffer the hardship of hauling your bin out the night before trash day?

    (p.s. and, honestly, don’t we all have better things to talk about?)


       —Murph.    Nov. 1 '06 - 12:51AM    #
  18. Parking!!!!


       —Dale    Nov. 1 '06 - 01:31AM    #
  19. “Is this some sort of strange semantic hang up”

    I just can’t see any useful definition of “traffic” that doesn’t include whatever’s going on in the bike lane. OK, maybe I’m nitpicking.

    “I have some familiarity with the argument, common amongst the commuting crowd, that cyclists have a “right” to be ride amongst several hundred tons of fast-moving steel”

    For people trying to get from point A to point B (“the commuting crowd”), the road network is the only game in town, and the advice to stick to bike lanes is almost always irrelevant. So, yeah, we will tend to harp on that particular right.

    “I also got to know a number of local riders who, often in the process of purchasing a new bike and helmet, complained of their recent misfortune in having been struck and injured by some of the aformentioned steel.”

    Sure. Would a bike lane have prevented that? Maybe—I’ve seen research suggesting that it does at least modestly increase passing clearance. But as Murph says it’s changing lanes and crossing intersections that carries the most risk. Bike lanes don’t help there.

    “If the cyclist is having to weave in and out of the bike lane every third yard because of leaf piles, that could definitely be considered an unusual condition, and not something that the cyclists should be told to merely suck up and deal with.”

    Sure, fair enough. (Though the standard advice in that case would be to stay outside the bike lane until you’re past all the obstacles. That might slow down some cars. The one clear advantage of bike lanes is that they can make it easier for cars to pass bicycles more quickly.)


       —Bruce Fields    Nov. 1 '06 - 01:48AM    #
  20. ”(p.s. and, honestly, don’t we all have better things to talk about?)”

    I could do this, or I could study. Hence, this.


       —Daniel Adams    Nov. 1 '06 - 01:51AM    #
  21. “the very purpose of a bike lane – to get cyclists out traffic and off sidewalks”

    I don’t mean to gang up on Daniel or to claim a greater passion for cycling infrastructure than Murph, I just find it extremely important to flog this dead horse into pudding.

    My understanding of the purpose of providing bike lanes is to provide a dedicated path for cyclists in order to improve perceived safety. I took it as an effort to attract potential cyclists and sidewalk cyclists, both of whom might otherwise feel unsafe riding on the street.

    I don’t believe that the intention of striping bike lanes (at least in Ann Arbor) was to keep cyclists out of the roadway and separate from other traffic. In fact, this phillosophy is in direct opposition to the concept behind the shared use arrows found throughout downtown. I’m pretty sure the city’s general intention is to get cyclists and motorist to “share the road”.


       —Scott TenBrink    Nov. 1 '06 - 08:05AM    #
  22. “I don’t believe that the intention of striping bike lanes (at least in Ann Arbor) was to keep cyclists out of the roadway and separate from other traffic.”

    How is this possible? What other purpose can a bike lane serve, other than to segregate cars from traffic?


       —Daniel Adams    Nov. 1 '06 - 03:06PM    #
  23. Jello comes from horses, Scott. Pudding is from … some other animal.

    Murph, the “whole [last] foot” is more like six to twelve when there are lots of leaves, and cars in the street, and you have to move them a foot from the curb so that none get left behind. They don’t stack like our recycling bins. Be real. (We could talk about backyard composting!!! That’s both “better” and relevant.)


       —Steve Bean    Nov. 1 '06 - 03:16PM    #
  24. I just wanted to use this opportunity to say that last year at 10:30 pm on the night before leaf pickup, I was raking my leaves into the street when a cyclist rode by and huffily told me that this was a bike lane, not a leaf lane.

    The fantasy of thrusting my rake handle into his rear spokes passed through my mind as I laid in bed that night going over all of the witty comebacks that I should have said.

    I came up with nothing.

    If anybody has any snappy comebacks in case it comes up again, I’d love to hear them. Anything’s got to be better than Steve Martin’s “Well Exscuuuuuuse ME!”


       —.:DataWhat?:>    Nov. 3 '06 - 04:16PM    #
  25. Try to imagine for a while what might motivate (or necessitate) him to ride a bike in the cold at night, and what a tragedy it would be for his family if he were killed in a collision with a car or truck or bus, and maybe that will help you just let go of it. You didn’t do anything wrong. Keep it that way.


       —Steve Bean    Nov. 3 '06 - 04:32PM    #
  26. To avoid causing a hazard to bicyclists, I always rake my leaves past the bike lane into the automobile lanes. The cars can always go into oncoming traffic if they want to get around.


       —Nitro    Nov. 3 '06 - 09:57PM    #
  27. I appreciated the “friendly reminder” tone of the initial posting. It seems helpful to point out the unintended obstacle that some might be creating by complying with city policy on leaf removal. I (foolishly?) assume that some home owners might reconsider the timing of their autumn maintenance work once alerted to the potential conflict. It was similarly helpful to cyclists, who can consider the potential problem when planning their routes.

    I’m surprised now to see the issue devolving to a bikers-vs-rakers argument. I don’t see how either cyclists or raking home-owners are to blame. It is the city that has conflicting policies here. They encourage cyclists to ride in the same location that they encourage rakers to pile leaves. In both cases the encourgement comes via provision of service and infrastructure. What’s the point in demanding cyclists go around or rakers compost when conflict of city policies is the root of the problem? Both “sides” of this issue would benefit more from a coordinated campaign addressing the city than from barking snide ride-by comments and threatening sticks-in-spokes revenge on one another.

    Here’s where I should recommend a solution, but nothing is coming to me. I assume the same frustrations provoked the initial “arborupdate reader” to revert to a neighborly request to raise awareness. So, my letter to the city might not offer a solution, but it will point out that this is a problem for bikers and rakers alike, and that we are all asking the city to be aware of the concern and try to find a solution that suites everyones needs.

    And, Datawhat, as a regular bike commuter I feel obligated to point out that “thrusting my rake handle into his rear spokes” would do little to solve your problem. As most cyclists are aware, it is a rake handle in the FRONT spokes that is a real wake-up call.


       —Scott TenBrink    Nov. 6 '06 - 04:30AM    #