LONGMONT -- In the right alleyway, riding in Brian Barnes' trash truck can feel like a video game.
Tree branches hit the windshield. The tires find narrow stretches between trash bins and a telephone pole, then turn to dodge a flower garden.
An overlapping garage is just barely squeezed past -- or sometimes not so barely, as some ripped-up shingles from a prior run can attest.
"Try doing this in snow," Barnes says as his truck finishes running the gantlet.
It isn't a game, so no points are scored. But a point is made: Newer trash trucks and older alleys don't mix very well.
Recently, the tight combination led to a decision: The city would stop picking up trash in five alleyways across Longmont starting Sept. 10. To say the least, it didn't go over well.
"This is very unacceptable," Jacqueline Hansen of 227 Sherman St. wrote to the city after getting word of the decision. "This is NOT just an inconvenience! ... We are pleading with you to listen."
Listen they did, after more questions and worries and even a brief discussion before the City Council. Canceling the alley collections is now off the table. Just what will be done instead still isn't clear -- maybe buy a smaller truck, maybe contract with another service, maybe just work with the neighbors to keep the alleys cleaner and less crowded.
But whatever happens, the trash issue is now less likely to raise a stink.
"I'm not upset anymore," said Lori Larsen of 742 Eighth Ave., a neighbor of one of the five alleys. "They have reversed the decision, which is fantastic. It restores my faith in the city."
Longmont's alleyways haven't shrunk over the decades. But the trucks have grown. The current automated trash trucks measure about 101/2 feet across, a big load to send down a narrow road.
Even so, the alleys would be passable if it weren't for all the stuff they accumulate, things like "volunteer trees," brush, low-hanging wires or planted flowers. Even the position of a trash bin can make the difference between a clean fit and a tight squeeze.
"There's one garage at the end of the alley we've hit at least three times," said Charles Kamenides, the city's sanitation operations manager. "We need to take care of any risks or problems we have."
"We took a picture of one of our trash trucks going through an alley, and you almost couldn't see it," agreed Barnes, a driver for more than 30 years. "There were too many trees in the way."
Four of the five picked were in Old Town Longmont: the 200 and 300 blocks of Francis and Sherman streets, the 300 block of Judson Street, and the stretch of Eighth Avenue just north of Roosevelt Park. The last one, on the 1900 block of Collyer and Corey streets, also was near a park -- Lanyon, in this case.
But Old Town conditions were part of why the neighbors objected so strongly.
Prue Larson's home, at 317 Sherman St., has some beautiful flowers and some nice fencing. It even has a shared landscaping project with her neighbor to the north.
"We put our best face forward," she said with a smile.
What it doesn't have is a driveway. Neither do the homes of many of her neighbors. And that's a problem when you're talking about on-street trash collection. That means there's no easy way to get trash and recycling bins to the street without dragging them across the lawn, and no easy place to store them when it isn't trash day.
"The only place I could put them would be right against the house here," Larson said, noting a side-yard spot in full view of her neighbor's deck. "Now wouldn't that be nice to my neighbors who want to sit outside and eat? I'm not going to do that to them."
Several residents noted that the problem would only get worse in winter or for older neighbors. And the lack of any chance to talk things over first irked more than one person.
"I think we got kind of sideswiped," Hansen said.
Larsen started drafting a petition. Hansen's 11-year-old son, Jake, helped her make fliers. Larson began talking with neighbors. But the confrontation began to cool after city officials began talking with the neighbors, and after the City Council made it clear that canceling collections wasn't an option.
Kamenides and some of his co-workers began walking the alleys with some of the neighbors, pointing out trouble spots.
"That was eye-opening for us," Hansen said. Piece by piece, the group saw that some of the conditions -- the tree limbs, the brush, the occasional clutter -- might be manageable with some vigilance.
"They have some legitimate issues on their side," Larsen said.
And as the neighborhoods decide to be more attentive about the alleys, Kamenides is looking into other options. He doesn't yet have a price on what it would cost to build a narrower truck or to hire another service, such as Western Disposal, to do just the alley routes. But he's checking. And he's glad that he and the community can lend each other a hand.
"I'll work as hard as I can to find a solution for the alleys, not just for our drivers, but for our residents and customers," he said.