Lorraine Complains: Cities must stop letting residents toss leaves on the road
Roadside leaf piles are a safety and drainage problem
“Raking or blowing leaves onto the street is a fineable offence under the Street and Traffic By-Law (up to $10,000)” — Vancouver, B.C .
Why? “Piles of wet leaves create slippery road conditions, block visibility, and flood drains and nearby areas.”
Canada is famous for its fabulous trees, but some Canadians can also be a selfish bunch of twits when it comes to managing the leaves that fall each year. Most regions still try to gently tell property owners to do what is actually best: leave the leaves alone. Waterloo, Ontario puts it thusly : “ you can protect pollinators and other small urban critters by providing safe habitats by leaving your leaves. You can also improve your soil by leaving your leaves. Leaving your leaves: provides valuable organic matter to help build up healthy soil; mulching leaves helps to fertilize your lawn from decomposing leaves, as well as helping natural microbes do their thing to promote lawn nutrients; leaves act as a natural mulch which can reduce your weeds in the garden by raking leaves onto your beds for winter where they will break down; even if a large amount doesn’t break down completely, you can use Yard Waste collection when doing garden cleanup in the spring.”
Leaves on the street are a mess. They are dangerous. They block storm sewers, and they wreak havoc for those attempting to use bike lanes. Kids getting killed playing in piles of leaves on the road isn’t an urban legend, but it’s not common — your child is in far more danger playing in snowbanks by the side of the road. But why is it good practice to put anything on our roads? There are enough naturally-occurring hazards for road users to navigate — potholes, puddles, snow. That’s before we factor in construction and people who insist on wrestling rural-applicable vehicles into their condo parking spots, or places like Hamilton, Ontario that allow massive trucks to use their residential roads as thoroughfares with disastrous results .
Winnipeg canceled their leaf program in 2015 due to costs — about $800,000 per year. People groused, but they never reinstated it. Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge was spending $1.2 million in 2014, as those municipalities begged their residents to simply mulch the leaves then leave them alone. It’s an expensive line item for towns and cities struggling more than ever, and is simply an entitlement that the entitled won’t surrender.
Most cities provide various forms of leaf management. Maybe you have to bag up leaves like other yard waste in purchased paper bags; some places have a big vacuum truck that is sent out with a front end loader to clear up leaves that residents have hauled to the street. Some places, like where I live, make some residents in one area bag while others get to dump them in the street. The argument is that those in older parts of town have more leaves. It still results in two levels of service that I don’t think is fair. I live in one of those older parts of town. The theory is one thing; the practice is another.
Theoretically, you are given a date when collection crews will be coming to your area. You are asked to put your leaves to the curb no sooner than the beginning of that week. As I speak, in my ward, people have been dumping their leaves in the street for two weeks. Our collection date is scheduled for over three weeks from now. I have a huge pile in front of my house; I did not put them there, but I have a neighbour who plays out a cuckoo’s nest version of events. This makes bylaw tough to enforce, and I have zero interest in narcing on people I have to live near.
In a resource-conscious world, we shouldn’t be wasting energy on dedicated mechanical leaf collection in the first place. They’re good for your garden. Too many leaves? Bag ‘em and they’ll be recycled. In Calgary, you truck your own yard waste to designated landfill areas to be composted. Vancouver and Halifax send city crews to collect leaves that have fallen on the streets — not the leaves that collect on private residences. That is a reasonable use of tax dollars.