Caution, Hazard Ahead

By John Berg

Published in the Davis Enterprise, Friday, January 7, 2011

Bicyclists deal with dangerous blocked lanes each winter

A bicyclist rides past a debris pile Tuesday in the northbound bike lane on B Street north of Eighth Street (FRED GLADDIS/ENTERPRISE PHOTO).

Imagine driving a car in Davis after a severe Pacific storm, dodging  downed trees and limbs, crossing over into the opposite lane, or even hopping up onto the sidewalk at times.  Now, imagine if no one cleaned up the debris for weeks, and you had to deal with this every day.

That’s exactly what Davis cyclists, including school children, have to deal with many days during fall and winter, due to yard waste being dumped into bike lanes week after week.  Even though it is illegal to block bike lanes, the city does not have the resources to enforce many of the violations.

Almost every cyclist in Davis is familiar with this problem.  Apartment complexes with hired gardeners are responsible for a lot of the obstructions.  But private homes also contribute to the problem; for example, you can’t ride on B Street at this time of year without leaving the bike lane several times.

Worse, the combination of leaf piles and rain is dangerous.  Even with good lights, experienced cyclists have crashed after running into the extremely slippery piles.  A certified cycling instructor writes, “ A pile already caused one crash for me when a motorist changed lanes into my path, forcing me to move right and into a pile of wet leaves to avoid hitting his car.  I went down.”

A few years ago, containerization of yard waste was considered by the city as a solution to this problem and the problem of storm runoff blockage and pollution.  Even though many cities have successfully implemented this method of handling yard waste, Davis residents strongly opposed it, and containerization was abandoned.

Subsequently, double striping of some arterial bike lanes was tried, and this has been successful in keeping those lanes clear of debris.  However, this was a pilot project, and because of fiscal constraints, it will not be extended to the rest of the city.

The League of American Bicyclists, a national organization established in 1880 to promote proper paved roads for cyclists, awarded Davis the Bicycle Friendly City Platinum award in 2005.  This award was renewed in 2007.  Unfortunately, yard waste in bike lanes tarnishes platinum.  City programs, such as Safe Routes to Schools, and the sustainability effort, are harmed when leaves bring down cyclists.

What can be done?  Ideally, citizens would never put yard waste into a bike lane, but then where would such waste go?  It could be composted, or placed around the corner on a side street, or put into a container until the day before pickup.  Every citizen who needs to deal with yard waste should think about the consequences of their actions, especially if they have bike lanes in front of their house.  And gardening maintenance professionals should have clear instructions as to where not to place the greenwaste.

Users of the bike route system have recourse as well.  If you encounter a clear violation of a blocked bicycle lane, call the Davis code compliance complaint phone number at (530) 757-5646.  You can also lodge comments and complaints with the Davis Bicycle Advisory Commission, which meets the first Monday of every month at 5:30 pm.

Automobile drivers never expect their progress to be blocked by obstructions.  In Davis, of all places, this should be true for cyclists as well.

John Berg chairs the Bicycle Advisory Commission in Davis. He also writes a blog Rusty Platinum concerning bicycle issues in the city.

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