Trash Talk – bike lanes blocked while authorities shrug shoulders

Who do you call when trash cans block the bike lanes in LA? After years of digging, LA’s cycling commuity has found the answer: the Bureau of Street Service’s Inspection and Enforcement Division. Their Inspectors are professional peace officers tasked with, among other things, keeping the right of way clear of obstructions. You can contact them by calling 213-847-6000.

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You know what is cool? Bike lanes in Los Angeles are cool. You know what is not cool? Blocking bike lanes with trash cans is not cool, moreover it is also illegal. It says so in California Vehicle Code Section 21211:

“(b) No person may place or park any bicycle, vehicle, or any other object upon any bikeway or bicycle path or trail, as specified in subdivision (a), which impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of any bicyclist unless the placement or parking is necessary for safe operation or is otherwise in compliance with the law.”

In California, it is against the law to block the road without a special permit – but in LA, you’d need more than a special permit to find a cop willing to enforce this rule.

Cyclists have, for years, lobbied politicians in city hall, LAPD commanders, LA Department of Transportation officials, and others in local government to do something about the hazard of large numbers of trash cans blocking bike lanes before and after trash pickup days. The response has been baffling. Officers of the law have shrugged their shoulders. The highest officials in city government tilted their heads like confused dogs and said, “Uhhh…”.

In Los Angeles, the vast majority of residential properties have their trash picked up by the City of LA’s Department of Public Works in special bins that are leased from the city. The Bureau of Sanitation (a wing of Public Works) has a large fleet of special trucks that haul away may tons of garbage in these special bins – each one of which is leased to a property owner, each of which has a serial number identifying it (and thus identifying the party leasing the bin).

Bike Lane or Garbage Can Lane? by Waltarr
Image by Waltarr on Flickr.

So, what happens on trash day?

People drag their trash cans out and, instead of setting them against the curb, park them in the street beside their parked cars. God forbid they move their cars on trash day, or that they find an open curb space to leave their bins. It is much easier to keep your car parked where it is and simply drag the cans into the street – blocking the right hand lane on some roads and blocking the bikeway on others.

This sucks – but how do we fix it? I tried, for several years, to take corrective action after hearing LA’s highest authorities blow the issue off. The adrenaline rush was a lot of fun as I practiced side kicking bins into parked cars, swerving in to the lane of traffic with cars going 20 mph faster than me, on my way to work each morning. The bins would end up back where they were the next week, so my personal campaign came to a close.

Yet there are others in city government who work full time on this issue, attempting to ensure that LA’s streets are safe and clear of debris. The Bureau of Street Services Investigation and Enforcement Division (the BSS is a part of Public Works) is tasked with policing crap blocking the right of way. The IED employs a bunch of Investigators who are:

“… are duly appointed “public officers” pursuant to Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 61.07(a) with the power of arrest of a “peace officer” as authorized by California Penal Code (PC) Section 830.7(j). Section 830.7 grants Investigators the same law enforcement arrest authority exercised by police officers or sheriff deputies (PC 836) for specified illegal dumping related matters. In addition, Street Service Investigators have the authority to issue “personal service” criminal citations (Notices to Appear in Court), the power to serve warrants, make arrests for offenses that are a violation of state law or municipal ordinance; obtain criminal history information from the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS); carry self-defense weapons and impound vehicles.”

When it comes to blocking the right of way, these guys don’t mess around! They also work in the same department (Public Works) that licenses those trash bins to property owners.

Coincidentally did you know that if Bureau of Sanitation truck drivers notice you’ve over-filled your trash can, or put non-recyclables in your recylables-only bin, that they will note it and will not pick up your bin? In other words, the Bureau of Sanitation has a system for recognizing customers violating the terms of their service, recording that violation, and taking corrective action.

When customers violate the law (not just their terms of service) by blocking a bikeway, you’d think that it would be pretty easy to figure out some sort of corrective action. This is especially true when you realize that there are cops, with guns and the right to make arrests, that police this specific issue and work in the same department as those that lease these bins and collect trash from them on a weekly basis.

The Bureau of Sanitation and the Bureau of Street Service Inspection and Enforcement Division really ought to figure something out when it comes to trash bins blocking the right of way, don’t you think?

On behalf of all my cycling colleagues out there, I’d like to apologize to all the clueless, unhelpful, government authorities that let this problem sit on the shelf, shrugged their shoulders, and ignored the problem. I am sorry that you guys didn’t think of this first!

A big thank you to Ted Rogers of Biking In LA for help researching this article!

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9 Comments

  1. Aaron
    Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I asked Sgt. Krumer about this on Streetsblog recently (albeit without reference to the officers you mention), and the answer was basically a shrug of the shoulders: http://la.streetsblog.org/2011/06/02/lapds-bike-cop-sgt-david-krumer-answers-your-questions/ (I’ve reported it to Council Member Garcetti’s office a bunch of times and the Dept. of Sanitation too and never received any response to either)

    Do you know who we could actually report violations to? Have you communicated any of this with the Department of Sanitation?

  2. Posted July 20, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    There are special cops in the Bureau of Street Services Inspection and Enforcement Division that are responsible for policing things like trash cans and debris in the right of way.

    http://bss.lacity.org/StreetUseInspection/

    213-847-6000

    Be sure to get the address of the trash cans, maybe a picture of where they are in the street, and the serial number(s) on the cans. There is no official process to deal with these complaints, so a form will have to be filled out for each individual bin you record.

    Cyclists need to bring the BSS’s IED and the Bureau of Sanitation people together to figure out a long term solution that isn’t complaint driven.

  3. Buddhahead Steve
    Posted July 21, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Class action suit, reckless endangerment, willful neglect and dereliction of duties, menace to public safety…. nothing gets city officials moving like a good class action suit…

  4. Warren
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Thank ou for this information! Looks like I will be documenting a *lot* of bins on Venice Blvd!

  5. aboutsomeoneelse
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    What about dumpsters blocking lanes outside multifamily buildings?

    The West side of Normandie is ostensibly for two lanes of free-flowing traffic in the morning, and parking is disallowed between 7 and 9am. (Same on the East side of the street in the afternoon.) Parking Enforcement officers write a great many tickets, and it’s not uncommon to see scofflaws getting towed.

    However, there’s seemingly nothing to be done about the dumpsters that once a week appear in the far right lane, necessitate evasive maneuvers, and force some pretty quick/gnarly merges. This can’t be safe for motorists or bicyclists or anyone else.

    BSS isn’t concerned with receptacles that aren’t theirs, are they?

  6. bruin
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I have previously complained several times to the Bureau of Street Services about a particular residence which NEVER puts away its trash cans. If you provide your name, you can track the complaint and follow-up to see what they do about it. Typically, they send an inspector to the location, and issue a warning letter saying a fine could result. However, they are apparently reluctant to fine the offender: they have not yet imposed any fines or other penalties on this particular offender. LA should be eager for an additional source of revenue which will also make the streets look better!

  7. Gerry
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Move the trash bins into the right lane of traffic. Observe what car drivers do.

  8. Warren
    Posted August 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I saw some bins in the bike lane on Venice Blvd. today. I called the number. The person who answered transferred me to the “officer in charge of that area”. It went to voicemail. I left a detailed message, with the address, the number of bins, and my name and phone number. Still waiting for a call back. Is anyone else doing this? Are you getting any kind of response? Any idea what I should do next?

    BTW, the bins appear to be in the bike lane because on that stretch of road apparenly trash day is the same a street sweeping day. When I was there, the street had just been swept. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if the street sweepers were the ones moving the bins into the bike lae?

  9. Warren
    Posted December 6, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    So today I was riding home from work down Venice Blvd., and found five bins clustered together in the bike lane. Of course they were empty. So I guess that means the Bureau of Sanitation put them there when they were emptied. What are they chances of them investigating themselves?

3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Photo: Flying Pigeon L.A. [...]

  2. [...] — myself included — Flying Pigeon finally tracks down the people who are responsible for doing something about blocked bike lanes, including all those damn trash [...]

  3. [...] It is illegal to block a bikeway in California, and it is illegal to block the right-of-way in general, but this doesn’t stop lazy Angelenos from blocking streets on trash day with trash cans to allow them to keep their precious car parking spaces. [...]

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