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Debris in bike lanes a peril for pedalers

City can sweep street if it’s alerted to a hazard; public can stop dropping litter

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published: September 2, 2015, 6:00am
2 Photos
A cyclist rides along Columbia Street in downtown Vancouver as a motorist passes him Thursday morning, August 27, 2015. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian)
A cyclist rides along Columbia Street in downtown Vancouver as a motorist passes him Thursday morning, August 27, 2015. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Shawn Pidcock has seen just about everything on Vancouver’s bike lanes. He’s dodged bolts, screws, rocks, glass, bottles, tools, branches and other debris.

On one occasion, Pidcock navigated his bike through what appeared to be a box of nails scattered along the roadway, he said.

“I was lucky I didn’t pop a tire on that one,” Pidcock said.

The problem of debris and other obstacles in bike lanes is common, Pidcock said. The city of Vancouver regularly clears streets through its sweeping program, said Public Works Director Brian Carlson, and can respond to specific problem areas as they arise.

But keeping a system with 1,800 lane-miles of streets entirely clear is easier said than done, he said.

“Most of those calls, we’re able to take care of them within a day or two,” Carlson said. “But not all the time.”

He added: “We can’t be everywhere.”

Encountering obstacles in a bike lane is more than an inconvenience, Pidcock said. It’s also dangerous. Avoiding debris often means veering into another hazard, such as a storm drain, or toward vehicle traffic.

“That makes the bike lane not as wide as it should be, so you’ve really got to pay attention,” Pidcock said.

Pidcock knows the Vancouver area’s bike infrastructure well. He’s on his bike multiple times per week, often on long training rides around the area. Among the major roads he rides often are Northeast Ward Road, Northeast 76th Street, Northeast 162nd/164th Avenue and Northeast St. Johns Road. Each sees its share of debris in the bike lanes at times, he said.

The Vancouver resident has been bicycling in the area for more than 10 years. For the most part, the drivers Pidcock shares the road with are considerate, he said, even if Vancouver doesn’t have the same bike-friendly reputation as its larger neighbor to the south.

Pidcock said he’s seen other people on bicycles stop to pick up trash or debris in Vancouver bike lanes. He does the same when he can, he said.

The city’s street-sweeping program prioritizes roadways based largely on use, Carlson said. Downtown streets are swept as often as once per week. Major arterials get the sweeper treatment once per month. Neighborhood streets are swept about every other month, he said.

Calls and complaints about hazards in bike lanes vary, Carlson said. This spring, for example, an unusually high amount of bottles and other garbage was found on city streets, he said.

Types of debris also vary, Carlson said. Vehicle crashes sometimes leave broken glass in the roadway. Tree branches may come down in stormy weather. Rocks accumulate over time.

What’s particularly maddening, Carlson said, is deliberate — and preventable — litter.

“I just don’t get some of the folks that think it’s OK to throw crap out of their cars, and the impact that it has,” Carlson said.

People are encouraged to contact the city if they see debris or hazards in a bike lane, said city spokesman Loretta Callahan. Residents can call the city’s dispatch line at 360-487-8177, or submit a service request through the city’s website at www.cityofvancouver.us.

With litter, people should do their part to keep trash from ending up on public streets in the first place, Callahan said.

“It’s so preventable,” she said. “Just don’t throw it out.”

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