Composting calamity

Blair Ryan

When Paul Adkins sees a pile of golden leaves gathered by the side of the road, he sees danger.

Adkins, president of Greater Eugene Area Riders, is one of the leading founders of Eugene’s newly-established leaf program, which urges homeowners to keep bike lanes and sidewalks leaf-free.

“The issue of leaf piles blocking bike lanes has been brought up by cyclists for years,” said Adkins.  “It’s about time that the city took the issue into their own hands.”

In response to a letter sent by GEARs and other concerned community members in late October, the City of Eugene selected 25 miles of high-traffic bike lanes to focus on for leaf collection.

In addition, the city has created a Web site focused solely on leaf clean-up and distribution. On the site, cyclists and homeowners can report leaves in bike lanes, and the leaves will be cleaned up as soon as possible by the newly-hired pick-up crew. Homeowners can also request leaves to be delivered to their homes. 

Eric Jones, spokesperson for Eugene Public Works, said the city’s leaf collection was initially created to prevent flooding from clogged drains in the 1960s.

“In more recent years, the population of bicyclists in Eugene has grown, so the leaf collection program has been more and more focused toward safety,” Jones said.

Jones said an increase of environmental concerns also influenced the program to keep leaves out of waterways, as decomposing leaves take oxygen from the water that could be used by fish. Last year, the city collected more than 16,000 cubic yards of leaves.

On Nov. 2, the city officially began its leaf-collection program, which will last until Dec. 24.

A second cleanup round will start in January. Once the crews finish their round in each neighborhood, street sweepers will clean up remaining debris.

Although it is still in the early stages of implementation, the public has already responded to the program’s efforts. Adkins said he has mostly heard positive feedback from cyclists, while Jones has received complaints.

“Bikers have told us that the leaves in the bike lanes still pose as a hazard,” Jones said.
Last year, the city only told citizens not to put leaves on sidewalks, which led to piles commonly left in bike lanes. Jones said many residents have expressed concerns, since they are unsure where to pile their fallen leaves.

“We have been encouraging people to call as soon as they have a pile of leaves they want to dispose of, as well as composting their leaves in their yards,” said Jones. The city has distributed information to homeowners about how to compost odorless leaves and reuse them in garden soils.

University students who commute on bike see the addition to the program as necessary.

University sophomore Abby Knight believes leaf piles are a problem in bike lanes.

“It’s the city’s responsibility to make sure bicyclists can ride safely,” said Knight.
Senior Dylan Fast said he’s never been in a leaf pile-related accident, but still sees them as a hazard.

“Biking out into the road to avoid piles is dangerous, especially on main streets,” he said.
The clean-up crews take collected leaves to either Lane Forest Products or Rexius Forest By-Products, both local commercial natural debris recyclers.

Even after receiving a gold ranking as a bicycle-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists last week, Eugene is still working toward improving additional bike
safety efforts.

Jones said the city is focusing on expanding the Eye to Eye campaign, which urges cyclists and motorists to constantly make eye contact and works on the extensive Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan that will become public early next year.

Adkins wants to see a bicycle perspective included in all of the upcoming city plans.

“I’m really excited about how well we’ve worked with the city on the leaf program,” Adkins said. “It’s created a sturdy building block toward other bike-related projects.”

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